As the number of chemicals circulating throughout our environment grows research into its impact on our health struggles to catch up. NY1 Health Reporter Erin Billups goes inside one lab where they're working hard to find answers to protect future generations and filed the following report.
With the rise in reported cases of autism, asthma and neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, scientists at Mount Sinai Hospital are searching the environment for answers.
"The biggest clue is simply that it keeps getting more and more common. That suggests that there’s something in the environment. We haven’t actually invested a lot of research in understanding the environmental causes until very, very recently," explains Dr. Robert Wright, Preventative Medicine Department Chair at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine.
The tools to analyze the toxins we're exposed to are also only just being perfected. In Mount Siani's lab they're studying the so-called "rings" in baby teeth that start developing in the second trimester - similar to growth rings found in trees.
"We can study the chemical distribution along these growth rings and reconstruct an entire map of exposure. We can map for more than ten thousand chemicals in a single scan so now we can study what we call mixtures," says Dr. Manish Arora, Associate Professor of Preventative Medicine Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine.
So rather than the traditional approach of focusing on one chemical at a time, they're looking at how certain combinations of toxins, length of exposure and social factors may impact the developing brains of children.
"It turns out for non-infectious diseases it’s not typically one cause, it's multiple causes and many of them kind of coming together, perhaps causing you to go over a threshold that leads to a disease," says Dr. Wright.
Scientists are now using advanced technology to measure toxins in the teeth that could have come from infant formula.
"We do keep finding toxicants in infant formula at levels higher than breast milk," says Dr. Arora.
Writing in the journal Nature, Arora and his colleagues ask whether there's a link between high levels of iron in infant formula and Parkinson's later in life. But, they admit more research is needed.
"It's a hard issue, because I don’t think we know for certain that formula is toxic. I think we tend to assume that everything is ok until we study it, we don’t necessarily know," says Dr. Wright.
It's an opportunity they say to make infant formula, among other things, safer.