As grandparents and elders, we should be troubled by the startling rise in developmental disorders among children today. Autism and ADHD have become commonplace — one in every 110 children for autism; nearly one in 10 children in the United States aged 4 to 17 years for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — and so are kids on meds and in special education. Some experts point to better diagnostics for learning disorders (LD) in general, but I’ve wondered what role our speedy, information-saturated culture plays. What might be the effect of food additives, dyes, artificial sweeteners, or just too much sugar in everything we eat?
Yesterday, I had two experiences — a film called Bag It! and an NPR program (Our Toxic Love Hate Relationship with Plastics) — that make a strong case that the epidemic of learning disorders we are seeing in our young is due to exposure to chemicals, in utero and in infancy. The chemicals in plastics, that is, specifically phthalates or plasticizers, ubiquitous in toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo, baby care products and, until recently, baby bottles.
We are from birth to death, literally saturated in plastics: see Five Gyres, if you still believe that when our plastic bagged garbage is picked up from our curb or dumpster, it goes ‘away.’ As one interviewee in the film said, There is no away.
As grandparents, we need to be concerned, very concerned, and we need to decide what we personally are going to do about it. You might start by watching Bag It! , now part of the Whole Food Film Festival, Do Something Reel, showing this month in celebration of Earth Day, April 22, nationwide.
In another lifetime, I helped promote plastics professionally. You could say this is by way of a small mea culpa.