5 min Read

We Are Chemo-Sapiens

By Alanna Hendren

The article about the Reverse Flynn Effect in the last STAR generated more discussion than usual, primarily about why global IQ scores have been falling since 1975.  Could it be technology?  Technology seems like an easy culprit but the kind of unlimited external memory and processing speed everyone has at their disposal these days was not even imagined in the original Star Trek series.  1975 was my first year at university and I had a choice of a slide rule or a new-on-the-market portable calculator that could determine square roots for the cost of about $ 1,000 in 2022 dollars.  We used pay phones that cost 10 cents to make calls if we were away from home.  We memorized the phone numbers we called or wrote them down on a piece of paper.  We talked to our friends face-to-face, without distractions.  We did arithmetic in our heads.  Computers and game systems only came along in the 1990s, so tech may be blamed for other problems but the main culprit in the lowered IQ mystery seems to be the shocking amounts of industrial chemicals that have built up in our environments and bodies.

In her book Toxic Cocktail, Dr. Barbara Demeneix writes about “How Chemical Pollution is Poisoning our Brains”.  She exposes the prevalence and toxicity of the chemicals accumulating around the planet and in all living creatures.  She then explores what scientists already know about the impact of some of these chemicals on brain development from conception through adulthood and discusses the ten tons of these dangerous industrial chemicals that are released into our soil, atmosphere, rivers, and oceans every year.  These chemicals accumulate in our environments and bodies – they have even been found in the blood of polar bears in the Arctic.

Little research funding is available – a tiny fraction of what multi-national petrochemical companies like Bayer, Dow Chemicals, and Exxon Mobil can pay for lobbyists to arrange for continued environmental de-regulation.  Between the 1980s and the present, governments worldwide launched de-regulation initiatives that let all sorts of increasingly potent chemical compounds spew into the global environment with virtually no research on their impacts on life.

To start fixing this problem, the EU published a “restrictions roadmap” that could lead to the prohibition of over 12,000 chemicals because they are pushing some animal species like whales into extinction, interfering with human fertility, and causing two million human deaths per year (according to Arthur Nelsen in the April 25, 2022 issue of the Guardian).

Over 190 million synthetic chemicals are registered globally and on average, brand new industrial chemicals are created every 1.4 seconds.  The ten tons of 85,000 chemicals placed under the American Toxic Substances Control Act, excludes those found in pesticides, cosmetics, and food additives that all contain chemicals now circulating in the blood (and amniotic fluid) of every mammal.  Says Dr. Demeneix, “All children born today are exposed, from conception onward to a complex mixture of chemicals”.  No one knows the direct impacts of most of these chemicals or what their combined impact might be on developing fetuses, children, or aging adults.

Concurrent with this increased toxic chemical exposure, autism spiked all over the world to 1 of every 45 American children, and 1 out of every 66 Canadian kids.  ADHD rates have also risen, and significant IQ drops like the Reverse Flynn Effect have been noted.  There is very solid proof that the 12,000 chemicals under consideration for regulation by the EU pose a high risk to mammals, including humans, and the overall environment.  Most accumulate and some don’t degrade.  A 2011 U.S. study screened pregnant women for 163 chemicals and over 90% had a minimum of 62 in their blood.  Babies born to mothers with high levels of these chemicals have a higher risk of lowered intellectual capacity, autism, and/or ADHD.

Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org) report that chemicals are used in every step of global food production, in fertilizers, preservatives, additives, artificial food coloring, flavor enhancers, artificial hormones, artificial sweeteners, and the plastics that package our food.  Some of these chemicals are poisons and some have demonstrated direct negative impacts on human health and behavior.  Many preservatives can damage nerve cells and a developing brain, and cause drops in IQ.  Certain fish may be contaminated with toxic chemicals or heavy metals like mercury and lead that damage developing brains and lead to behavior disorders, lower IQs, and visual and hearing problems.  These chemicals are found in higher concentrations in young children than in teens or adults.

Still, we have no data about how many chemicals we are exposed to each day, even though we all have artificial chemicals in our bodies.  Researchers have found pesticides in the amniotic fluid that surrounds developing fetuses.  One can imagine that chemicals can cause ADHD, which is treated with Ritalin – another constellation of chemicals.

Early pregnancy is a very vulnerable time for exposure to toxins because the placenta does not block the passage of chemicals.  Some chemical exposure can alter DNA and impact future generations.  We are not aware of these chemicals when we breathe, drink, and eat so we can do very little to avoid them.  They are all global, just like the increased incidence of autism over the past 40 years.  Most manufactured chemicals have accumulated in our environments and within our bodies, year after year.

Like climate change, this is a global problem that requires a global solution because one single country can spew out enough toxic chemical contaminants to cover the planet.  Another reason we must all come together and soon.


What can I do to reduce my chemical exposure?

  • Avoid fast or processed foods and processed meats
  • Eat more fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, and grains
  • Avoid microwaving food in plastic containers
  • Use more glass, stainless steel, and paper in your kitchen
  • Avoid canned foods and drinks
  • Read labels and avoid foods with too many chemicals
  • Buy fragrance-free personal care products made naturally
  • Use more natural cleaning products (vinegar, baking powder)
  • Avoid breathing near fields doused with artificial fertilizers
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well before serving
  • Try to avoid hormone-free meat and dairy products
  • Teach your children to avoid plastics and toxic foods.