AS PARENTS, we can only do so much to protect our children from the brain-disrupting chemicals that lurk in every part of the Earth’s dynamic systems— its water cycles, air currents, and food chains. Faith and Elijah spend their days in a school full of equipment and furniture that no doubt contain brominated flame retardants (which, according to a 2010 study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is linked to lower scores on tests of mental development among children exposed in utero). They ride home on a diesel-powered bus. They fly around town on bicycles — or scooters or skateboards— to flute lessons, piano lessons, the public library, passing by pesticide-treated fields and lawns as they go. And when we lie together in the dark at the end of the day, I sometimes wonder how their brain architecture might have been — might still be — irreversibly altered, even if only slightly, by brain-damaging chemicals that are still allowed to be manufactured and sold, that are constantly pouring out of smokestacks and tailpipes, that are used as ingredients in everything from lipstick to gasoline. I sometimes think about these things when I watch one or the other of them erase a hole through a frustrating homework assignment and start over again.
So don’t give me any more shopping tips or lists of products to avoid. Don’t put neurotoxicants in my furniture and my food and then instruct me to keep my children from breathing or eating them. Instead, give me federal regulations that assess chemicals for their ability to alter brain development and function before they are allowed access to the marketplace. Give me a functioning developmental neurotoxicant screening program, with validated protocols. Give me chemical reform based on precautionary principles. Give me an agricultural system that doesn’t impair our children’s learning abilities or their futures. Give me an energy policy based on wind and sun. Because I can do the thinking and research associated with making the right school choice for my children. I can help them with multiplication tables and subject-verb agreement. I can pack healthy school lunches. But I can’t place myself between their bodies and the two-hundred-plus identified neurotoxicants that circulate freely through the environment we all inhabit.