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Participant Body Burdens

In 2009, 12 leaders and self-advocates from the learning and developmental disabilities community volunteered to have their bodies tested for 89 chemicals known or suspected of being neurodevelopmental toxicants or endocrine disruptors, including bisphenol A, lead, mercury, organochlorine pesticides, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), perchlorate, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), and triclosan.

A total of 61 chemicals (out of 89 tested) were found in the twelve participants. Each participant was found to harbor at least 26, and as many as 38, of the tested chemicals in their bodies. Sixteen chemicals were detected in every participant.

“As a professional football player I have to be as mentally and physically fit as possible — it’s my job. I want to know how to avoid toxic chemicals for myself, but I also really want little kids not to be exposed to these chemicals, especially if sometimes the chemicals could harm their bodies or brains and make it harder for them to learn.”

David Irons
Professional Athlete and Free Agent; former cornerback for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in

Bisphenol A

A chemical used to make epoxy resin to line food cans and other containers; the building block for polycarbonate plastic; present in paper products30



“With my children, I’m particularly careful about BPA exposure, and try to avoid canned foods and plastic bottles. But I had detectable levels of BPA in my body, as did everyone in the study. It’s unavoidable. We need legislation that requires manufacturers to prove that a chemical is safe and nontoxic before it can be used in products — before it puts our children at risk.”

Maureen Swanson, MPA
Director of LDA’s Healthy
Children’s Project


A heavy metal used in industrial applications



“I was surprised about how sad I felt after receiving my results. I want to have a child someday soon, and now I know that this extremely vulnerable little person will be exposed to some very toxic substances.” Laura added, “Everybody wants to make sure a baby can thrive in a safe and healthy environment, but so many everyday products contain toxic chemicals like lead. Even children’s toys and some candies have lead in them, so we really have no understanding of how to make safe purchases and protect our children or unborn from some very serious threats.”

Laura Abulafia, MHS
National Coordinator for LDDI and Director of Education and Outreach for AAIDD’s Environmental Health Initiative.


A heavy metal released into the environment from industrial sources, such as incineration and combustion of coal.

Mercury concentrations were above the CDC average in nine participants and above the 95th percentile in two of those participants.


“I was interested to see what chemicals were in my body. When I was a child, I used to play with mercury quite often. My father was a dentist and worked out of the house. Also, years ago, I wasn’t aware of any health effects of lead, so I used to bite on the lead weight when I went fishing. I have a significant learning disability — dyslexia — and since I’ve become more aware of neurotoxic agents, it raises the question in me whether these exposures contributed to my disability.”

Robert Fletcher, DSW
Founder and CEO of the National
Association for the Dually Diagnosed

Four organochlorine pesticides or pesticide metabolites

  • Hexachlorobenzene — a byproduct during the manufacture of pesticides and solvents
  • Beta-hexachlorocyclohexane (Beta- HCH) — a byproduct formed during the production of lindane (gamma HCH). Lindane is a pesticide banned for agricultural use in the U.S., but still approved by the FDA for treating head-lice and scabies.
  • Trans-nonachlor — a constituent of the insecticide chlordane, now banned in the U.S.
  • p,p-DDE — metabolite of the pesticide DDT, the use of which was banned in the U.S. in 1972

“It is disturbing that even though it’s been a long time since DDT has been banned as a pesticide in the U.S., it still exists and builds up in our bodies. It’s disturbing that it has that kind of staying power long term. I do have an 18-year-old and I figure that whatever might be going on in my body might certainly be going on in her body. It’s very disturbing to think that a chemical that was banned decades ago may still be taking up residence in the body of my child.”

Vernell Jessie
Project participant


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a class of flame retardant chemicals used in construction, electronics, and furniture upholstery


“It’s important that as companies phase out toxic chemicals such as some of the PBDEs, they thoroughly test the substituted chemicals for developmental toxicity and that the results of their analyses are made available to manufacturers who will be using these substitutions in their products.”

Stephen Boese


A chemical used in rocket fuel, road flares, airbags


“Low thyroid functioning in the mother may impact the fetus, and if we can prevent exposures to toxic chemicals, such as perchlorate, then we would potentially have an enormous impact on the rates of learning and developmental delays.”

Larry Silver

Perfluorinated compounds PFOS and PFOA

Perfluorinated compounds used to make consumer and household products water, stain, and grease repellant




“Companies should be held accountable if they are exposing us to chemicals they know may harm us. We should know what we are being exposed to so that we can make choices to avoid exposures when we can, and we can ask government to regulate when personal exposures are difficult to avoid.”

Joseph P. Meadours
Self Advocate and Executive Director of Peoples First of California


Used in antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, and other personal care products


“I started going green before people really started going green and I watched what I ate and really took care of myself by using organic soaps, et cetera. I wasn’t arrogant enough to think my results would be squeaky clean, but it was a jaw-dropping moment to see my results above the 95th percentile for some of these toxic chemicals.”

Jeff Sell, Esq
Vice President of Public Policy
at The Autism Society