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How banning dangerous chemicals could save the US billions

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The Trump administration has argued that environmental regulations hold back economic productivity. Yet history suggests that the opposite is the case.

Look at phasing out lead in gasoline. To this day, the US receives a $200bn annual economic stimulus package each year because lead levels in children plummeted when the US Environmental Protection Agency moved to protect children.

Now, we realize that a larger suite of chemicals can disrupt hormones and cost our economy.

We’re talking not just about chemicals in cosmetics, but also in food packaging, aluminum cans, agriculture, electronics, carpeting and furniture. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) are recognized as a major public health threat by the Endocrine Society, the World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But what’s not recognized is that these chemicals cost the US $340bn each year, according to research I was part of, published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal.

Yes, that’s 2.3% of the US gross domestic product.

The key drivers of these costs in the US are the effects of flame retardants and pesticides on the developing brains of children. If one child loses IQ points, the parent or teacher may not even notice. But if, for example, 100,000 children lose an IQ point, the entire economy notices.

Each IQ point in a child is worth about 2% of their lifetime economic productivity. So if the average child makes $1m over her or his lifetime, this means an IQ point is worth about $20,000. Add up an IQ point across all of the 4,000,000 children born in the US each year, and the long line of zeros means big costs.


© The Guardian