Chemical brain drain can be prevented, and we already have the key instruments at hand. We must place the protection of brains at the very top of our promotion of healthy lifestyles, public information, environmental protection, and chemical control agendas:
- Optimal brain functioning should be a key focus of health promotion – not just avoidance of neurological disease.
- Because brain development is extremely vulnerable to chemical toxicity, children and pregnant women must receive the best possible protection.
- The public should have access to information on brain toxicity, the sources of exposure, and the actual levels of exposure where they live.
- Many pesticides, solvents, metals, and other industrial chemicals are already known to cause brain toxicity – these exposures must be vigorously controlled without further delay.
- Because there is only one chance to develop a brain, protection against brain drainers must be promoted as a crucial and joint responsibility in society.
This immediate agenda needs to be supported by investment in new research, new approaches, and new thinking to generate responsible procedures for prudent decision-making:
- As most industrial chemicals have not been tested for toxicity to brain development, screening should be conducted using existing and improved test methods to identify substances that need tighter control;
- We need new research to understand how brain development can be optimized and how best to prevent long-term dysfunctions and deficits linked to brain toxicity;
- As exposures and toxicity do not respect national borders, a clearinghouse is needed to collect and evaluate documentation on brain drain and to stimulate international collaboration to prevent the adverse effects;
- Scientific proof should no longer be demanded as a prerequisite to act responsibly and ethically in protecting vulnerable populations against brain-draining chemicals; and
- On this basis, transparent procedures and decision rules need to be devised for acquisition of safety information, public information, improved chemicals control, and monitoring, while innovation in safer technology is stimulated.
These mechanisms must be decided upon on behalf of our children and grandchildren. They may not forgive us otherwise.