How Toxic Chemicals Are Robbing Vulnerable Children of Millions of IQ Points

The crisis of contaminated water seen in Flint, Michigan is ongoing and terrible, but other related events of contamination are more common than people tend to think they are. America is a society with many protections for the most powerful, and not enough for the most vulnerable.

The chemicals we’ve long feared the most – heavy metals like lead and mercury – are less of a threat to kids’ developing brains than they were two decades ago. But two new menaces may be taking their place: pesticides and flame retardants.

According to new research from New York University, flame retardants resulted in a loss of 162 million IQ points among children in the US between 2001 and 2016.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, looked at the four chemicals known to impact the brain of a developing child most: lead, mercury, pesticides, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (otherwise known as flame retardants).

Leo Trasande, a paediatrician and public-health researcher at NYU who co-authored the study, described these pollutants as “hit-and-run” chemicals: Once a child is exposed to them, there’s no reversing the damage.

“Kids’ brain development is exquisitely vulnerable,” Trasande told Business Insider. “If you disrupt, even with subtle effects, the way a child’s brain is wired, you can have permanent and lifelong consequences.”

The study found that lead cost US kids 78 million IQ points during the 15-year period studied, while pesticides caused a loss of nearly 27 million IQ points during those years. Mercury, meanwhile, caused a loss of 2.5 million IQ points.

Children’s’ lower IQs are costing the US trillions of dollars

The researchers found that among kids exposed to toxins from 2001 to to 2016, the proportion of IQ loss due to exposure to flame retardants and pesticides increased from 67 percent to 81 percent. Flame retardants can be found in household furniture and electronics, while pesticides can be consumed when they linger on produce.

“What we found was quite striking,” Trasande said.

“We know that there is no safe level of lead exposure. The same is true for methylmercury, pesticides, and flame retardants.”

The study also found that there is an economic cost to childhood brain damage: Trasande said that each individual IQ point is worth roughly 2 percent of a child’s lifetime economic productivity. So if a child could potentially make US$1 million over the course of their lifetime, they would lose US$20,000 for every IQ point lost.

“A kid’s brain power is the engine of our economy,” Trasande said.

“If a child comes back from school with one less IQ point, maybe mum or the parent might not notice. But if 100,000 children come back with one less IQ point, the entire economy notices.”

According to the researchers, IQ loss due to lead, mercury, flame retardants, and pesticide exposure combined cost the US around US$6 trillion from 2001 to 2016.

Regulations on flame retardants and pesticides are more lax than heavy metals

For decades, scientists have understood that exposure to lead and mercury can result in childhood brain damage. So many of the main hideouts for these chemicals – leaded gasoline, lead paint, and mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants – have been phased out.

As early as the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency required lead to be phased out of gasoline and paint (though lead paint can still be found in homes built before 1978).

The agency also set standards to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants in 2011, though some power plants still do not meet these requirements.

But there have been fewer efforts to regulate pesticides and flame retardants.

The EPA has banned around 37 pesticides, though more than 500 have been used in the US. Another 97 have been voluntarily withdrawn by pesticide manufacturers.

More than a dozen states have adopted legislation that restricts the use of flame retardants in products like furniture, carpeting, and children’s toys, but none of the chemicals are banned federally.

Ways to reduce kids’ exposure

Many factors can influence a kid’s exposure to a chemical, Transande said.

“The science has really evolved such that the dose is not the only thing that makes the poison,” he said. Other factors to consider could include the timing and frequency of exposure.

Trasande added that regulating all of these chemicals has a far lower long-term economic cost than the cost of kids’ lost IQ points due to exposure.

To minimise personal risk in one’s own home, Trasande suggested simple steps like opening windows so that dust laced with flame retardants can escape. He also suggested vacuuming frequently and using a wet mop to sop up chemicals on the floor.

In addition, parents should avoid mattresses and children’s toys that contain polyurethane foam (which often carries flame retardants).

Trasande also said households should avoid spraying pesticides on their lawns or backyards and recommended switching to organic foods (though organic produce can also contain pesticides).

“We’ve made less progress in phasing out or banning some of the pesticides of greatest concern,” Trasande said. “But there are steps we can take proactively as consumers.”

2018 Midterm Elections in the United States

The 2018 midterms will have significant impacts on not only America but the world — see the Republicans being a more authoritarian example for other countries and being worse on issues such as climate change.

Usually the elections for federal and state offices that take place between the US presidential elections get considerably less attention than those taking place in the same year as the presidential race. This is not likely to be true in 2018.

As is always the case, the entire House of Representatives will be up for reelection. There will be elections for a third of the Senate (actually 35 of 100 senators because of a resignation) and state governors races in 36 of the 50 states, including nine of the ten largest. In addition, most state legislatures will be up for grabs in the election as well.

The main reason this election is so important is that Donald Trump has demonstrated an unprecedented level of disrespect for basic norms of democracy and the rule of law. Republicans in Congress, with almost no exceptions, have been willing to go along in his abuses of power. If the Republicans manage to maintain control of both houses of Congress, there will be little ability to block Trump’s attack on the basic institutions of democracy.

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Trump and the Republican party are also looking for ways to disenfranchise voters to maintain their grip on power. It is important to recognize that the Republicans depend on being able to rule as a minority.

In 2016 Trump lost the nationwide popular vote by almost 3 million votes, or 2.1 percentage points. He nonetheless won the election because the presidential race is decided by the Electoral College in which most states the winner takes all. While electoral votes are partially proportionate to population (each state gets at least three votes regardless of its size), Trump won several large states by tiny margins, allowing him to get a majority in the Electoral College.

There is a similar story in the US Senate. Each state has two senators, which means that Wyoming, with less than 600,000 people, has the same number of senators as California with almost 40 million. With Republicans winning most of the small states’ senators, they are able to have a majority of the Senate even when they get much less than half of the vote for senators.

The House of Representatives awards seats to states based on the population. But because the Republicans controlled the last redistricting processes following the 2010 Census, they drew districts in a way that will require the Democrats to win the overall vote by 6 to 8 percentage points to retake the House. With a new Census in 2020, the governors who are elected this year will preside over the redistricting that takes place in 2021. This will be an opportunity for either party to lock in favorable districts for a decade.

There is also a basic issue of whether people are able to vote. Republicans have pursued a variety of measures intended to make it difficult for minorities to vote. In prior years, courts have overruled many of these measures since the right to vote is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In more recent years, Republican-appointed judges have approved many blatant acts of disenfranchisement. If they can maintain control of both houses of Congress, Republicans at both the federal and state level are likely to move more aggressively in implementing obstacles to minority voting.

For these reasons, there any many basic issues about democracy that will be at stake with the outcome of the 2018 election. While the US government has a long-standing democratic tradition and respect for the rule of law, these are very much up for grabs this year. We have a president and a major political party that care about neither.

Republican Budget Would Cut $5.4 Trillion from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Over the Next Decade

The classic Republican scheme in the modern era — cut taxes on the richest people in the country (those who are already the big beneficiaries of the massive upwards redistribution of income over the last four decades) and then cut the safety net programs vital to the majority of the population. If policies like this one continue to be enacted, America is simply going to be further ruined for the vast majority.

With the nation’s attention rightly fixated on President Donald Trump’s horrific treatment of immigrant children, House Republicans on Tuesday quietly unveiled their 2019 budget proposal that calls for $537 billion in cuts to Medicare, $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, and four billion in cuts to Social Security over the next decade in an effort to pay for their deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy.

“It’s morally bankrupt, patently absurd, and grossly un-American,” the advocacy group Patriotic Millionaires said of the GOP’s budget proposal, which calls for $5.4 trillion in spending cuts from major domestic programs.

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Progressives have been warning for months about the GOP’s plan to axe crucial safety net programs following the passage of its deeply unpopular $1.5 trillion tax bill, which has sparked a boom of corporate stock buybacks while doing little to nothing for most American workers.

“Each GOP budget is more fraudulent than the last,” Seth Hanlon, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, wrote on Tuesday. “We know what they stand for: tax cuts paid for with healthcare cuts.”

In addition to proposing devastating safety net cuts, the House GOP budget also calls for partial privatization of Medicare and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a move that would throw tens of millions off their health insurance.

EPA Blocked Release of Major Water Contamination Report

All of the wealth in world history’s wealthiest country and it still isn’t using those resources to provide access to safe drinking water for tens of millions. America is a plutocracy though, and while it remains that way, the society’s structure will primarily prioritize making the rich richer over much else.

The chemicals that were under review are PFOA and PFOS, which, as Politiconotes, “have long been used in products like Teflon and firefighting foam”—as well as by the Department of Defense, when it conducts exercises at U.S. bases—despite the fact that they “have been linked with thyroid defects, problems in pregnancy, and certain cancers, even at low levels of exposure.”

The study, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), reportedly shows that these chemicals are dangerous to human health at far lower levels than previously known or disclosed by the EPA, and have “contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants, and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia.”

An Abuser of Human Rights Shouldn’t be Appointed CIA Director

The CIA has a grotesque past, from helping to install dictators in various countries to leaving explosives under an American school bus for a week. It doesn’t need to be made worse by appointing a known torturer, especially when torture is a war crime and has shown to not even be effective.

On Capitol Hill, President Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, repeatedly refused Wednesday to call the CIA’s post-9/11 treatment of prisoners “torture,” and declined to state whether she believes torture is immoral. CIA Deputy Director Haspel’s comments came in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee as she made her case to become CIA director.

Haspel is a 33-year CIA veteran who was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, where at least one prisoner was waterboarded and tortured in other ways during her tenure. Haspel also oversaw the destruction of videotapes showing torture at the black site.

Campaign Finance Reform — 75% Approval

The dreaded extent of money in politics shows itself.

Amidst a widely-shared recognition that the country is effectively being run by powerful special interests, a new poll out Friday shows that more than 3 out of 4 Americans now support serious campaign finance reform as a way to mitigate the corrupting influence of money in the nation’s democracy.

The results of the extensive Pew Research Center survey, released Thursday, reveal Americans “see the country falling well short in living up to” democratic ideals and values, and believe core changes are needed in the political system.

Seventy-six percent say the government is run by a few big interests, a level unchanged since 2015. Just 21 percent say the government is run for the benefit of all.

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The new survey also shows widespread backing of campaign finance reform.

Over three-quarters of Americans—77 percent—say that there should be limits on the amount of money political candidates can spend on campaigns. There is strong support from both Democrats (85 percent) and Republicans (71 percent).

A majority of Americans—65 percent—say they believe new campaign finance laws would be effective in limiting the amount of money in political campaigns.

Cardi B is Correct About the Importance of Social Security

It’s good that a rapper like Cardi B is into studying politics, since you either turn on to politics or politics turns onto you.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) embraced a newfound ally this week when he tweeted his agreement with a statement made by rap artist Cardi B about strengthening Social Security.

In a recent GQ interview, Cardi B shared her interest in politics and her admiration for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his establishment of a social safety net through the New Deal and laws like the Social Security Act of 1935.

“This man was suffering from polio at the time of his presidency, and yet all he was worried about was trying to make America great—make America great again for real. He’s the real ‘Make America Great Again,’ because if it wasn’t for him, old people wouldn’t even get Social Security,” she said.

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Sanders is a long-time advocate of strengthening the system which ensures a financial safety net for senior citizens—and on which Republicans could wage an attack this year, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) claiming in December that the program is a major “driver of our debt,” just before the GOP pushed through a law giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

The Vermont senator introduced a proposal last year that would require Americans who make more than $250,000 per year to pay the same percentage of their income into the Social Security system as lower-income and middle-class households do, which would increase benefits for low-income seniors.