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Public Health Forum Calls for More Regulation of Contaminants

By Lena R. Episalla, Contributing Writer

As the water crisis in Flint, Mich. continues to garner national attention, a panel of scientists and policymakers at a Harvard School of Public Health forum stressed that the prevalence of toxins remains a nation-wide problem that should be regulated.

Friday's event, “Chemical Exposures and the Brain: The Flint Water Crisis and More,” is part of the School’s webcast series on controversial health issues in America.

The forum focused on the ongoing emergency in Flint as a starting point to discuss issues with toxins nationwide. The city’s water supplies exposed thousands of children to harmful lead levels which were at times 10 times higher than the maximum allowed concentration by federal regulations.

Tufts University Medical School Professor Jeffrey Griffiths criticized the Michigan government’s failure to maintain safe water supplies.

“This is just negligence at an astounding degree because we knew for decades… that we had a real problem with lead,” he said.

Griffiths also noted the detrimental effects of lead on fetal development, including decreasing I.Q. and increasing incidences of A.D.H.D.

School of Public Health professor Philippe Grandjean said that lead is the “tip of the iceberg,” also using data to show that hundreds of compounds used in daily life can be neurotoxic in humans.

“Any parents or grandparent would agree with me that those 214 compounds have no place in a baby’s circulation or a baby’s brain,” he said.

Because of the widespread usage of these damaging chemicals, panelists called for increased government regulation of neurotoxins.

Marc Weisskopf, an associate professor at the School of Public Health, urged for the implementation of greater safety tests.

“We need to set up, at a much larger policy level, that chemicals need to pass some bar of safety before they’re allowed out there,” he said in an interview.

To that end, Kimberly Gray, a program director in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said the Institute intends to continue research into potentially harmful chemicals. In addition, it plans to collaborate more closely with federal agencies to enact improved public health policies.

Carmen Messerlian, a research fellow at the School of Public Health, said she felt inspired to take a more proactive approach to her research.

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