The Health Effects Institute, a company specializing in the evaluation of environmental health effects, has published a new study linking the phthalate 4, naled to a global rise in autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other developmental disorders.
In a paper published on Wednesday, the Health Effects Institute found that changes in the levels of 4, naled (pronounced “nah-line”) detected in the bodies of Canadian children was correlated with a 1.32 percent increase in autism in kindergarten. Autism prevalence in Canada grew by 32 percent from 2002 to 2013.
4, naled has been linked to a number of neurological disorders, including autism, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In 2014, an Ontario judge determined that exposure to the chemical had caused fatal brain disease and in 2015, a major corporation agreed to pay $289 million in damages to families of victims from the 1998 illness that leads to a diminished sense of touch and warmth.
Prior studies, however, were not able to actually measure levels of 4, naled in healthy children’s body because body water can mix with the liquid in the air. Asit Kaul, co-author of the study and the director of the Health Effects Institute, also told The New York Times that the study was able to track the amount of 4, naled in people’s bodies because scientists developed a machine that re-oxygenated urine and was able to track the chemical levels.
The study also notes the fact that this rise in autism prevalence has started occurring far earlier in life, a phenomenon that would affect even the most healthy individuals. In 2002, when the first autism cases were documented, the majority of the first autistic people were diagnosed around the age of 6. In 2013, these children would be diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 5.
This analysis of autism and neurotoxicity has highlighted 4, naled as one of the issues that researchers are struggling to address in the United States and in Canada. The American Academy of Pediatrics’s position paper, however, urges its members to “avoid exposure to 4, naled, simply because of the few studies that have suggested the health effects of the substance.” The same position paper discusses potential risks for pregnant women and lists safety and accuracy of data as primary criteria.
While a link between autism and 4, naled is probable, Kaul told The Times it is unclear what the long-term environmental factors are. “Does 4, naled cause autism if our bodies hold it in? What is the effect of 4, naled on certain cancers that we’re trying to detect?”
Dr. Emily Coronel, a pediatrician, told The Times that the paper was an “excellent illustration of how we are at risk from a change in diet, polluted air, consumption of tobacco and other factors … and how vulnerable we are in our own population.”
Gloria Pozner, executive director of the Campaign for Human Rights, also praised the new study for outlining how autism prevalence has been increasing at a faster rate in many countries. The study “brings attention to the issue of global vaccine inequity,” she said.
In Canada, the Canadian Center for Science in the Public Interest, is urging its members to support the initiative to ban 4, naled in blood transfusions and vaccines.
Read the full New York Times report here.
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