A week or so ago an article was posted to one of my Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) lists. The article was about another chemical, a carbon tetrachloride derivative, that causes brain damage in unborn children. The group started a rather macabre game of listing all the chemicals that cause brain damage during gestation. Of course for this list, alcohol was at the top followed by tobacco and caffeine. As the common offenders were listed, I had to think hard to remember the fungicide that was used on cherries to keep them from molding as soon as they were ripe. We went through the polyvinylchlorides (PVC). The list was quite impressive for a group of adults who were just recalling names off of the top of their heads.
When the game was over, I made the comment. “It is a wonder that so many people turn out okay when babies are exposed to so many things.”
I told my husband about the game and my observation about so many people turning out just fine. He gave me a blank stare as he thought about my story. He grunted, “I wonder if that is why so many things do go wrong in society?”
I thought then about the obvious problems of autism, ADHD and even bipolar disorders. I thought about the number of children in our classrooms who are on medications so they can focus enough to learn.
I am well aware that Ann Streisguth Ph.D. is correct when she talks about those with a diagnosis being only the tip of the iceberg. We know we have an unprecedented number of children born with autism and ADHD. How many more children do not function as well as they should due to prenatal exposure?
When things go wrong in our society how often is it due to the inability of a person or group of people to process information between the right and left sides of the brain? How many people are unable to solve the problems of their own budgets because their ability to comprehend math has been compromised?
We see the obvious problems of brain damage when individuals touch our schools, our criminal justice system, our welfare systems, and child protective systems. I can only wonder and shudder over the number of people who will never reach their potential because of prenatal exposure to a soup of toxins.
The solution to the problem sounds fairly easy. We need to develop a culture of protecting pregnant women from the toxins that we encounter everywhere. The solution is not easy.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders have been recognized for centuries. Aristotle described the problem. The need to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy was common knowledge in the late 1800’s. “Modern” medicine has been inclined to dismiss the writings of Dr. Stevens in the late 1800’s as “unscientific.” Drs. Smith and Jones described FAS in the early seventies. Since 1972 researchers have produced a definitive body of research detailing the effects of alcohol on the developing brain.
Why with our body of research detailing the effects of toxins on the developing brain do we still see children being born with brain damage from their prenatal exposure to toxins? Why can’t we get the message out to women to avoid certain situations and substances during pregnancy?
The answer to that question lies in the relationship between lobbyists, big money and our political institution. If a politician says what needs to be said about alcohol and birth defects, that politician’s career will be ruined. Our politicians cannot get elected without big money. They cannot offend the liquor industry, or Monsanto, or Dow, or any of the other big companies that contribute to their campaigns. So we see a collusion of secrecy that prevents our government from taking the action it needs. This collusion of secrecy is also protecting government sponsors from litigation related to the damages their products cause when used in a legal, responsible manner.