I am a special education teacher who works with students in grades 9-12. I am also the President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Connecticut, which supports individuals with learning disabilities through support, education and advocacy. My grave concern is that toxins in various food and packaging items as well as other products can impact my students’ brain development as well as their overall health.

One in five American children have a learning or attention disability. Autism now affects one in every 54 children, and approximately 18% of children in the U.S. have a developmental disability. In Connecticut, over 28,000 children have a learning disability and over 13% of public school students receive special education services.

Many people know that learning, attention and developmental disabilities can be passed from parent to child, but did you know that chemical exposures also contribute to over 25% of these disabilities ? This means one in every 200 U.S. children suffer from developmental or neurological deficits linked to harmful chemicals . The good news is that these causes are preventable.

Per- and polyfluoralkyl substances, also known as PFAS chemicals, are man-made chemicals that are found in our food, water, air and products. They are used to make products more resistant to stains, grease and water. There are nearly 5,000 PFAS chemicals and they are used in many products including food containers, electronics, cleaning products, textiles, and some firefighting foams.

PFAS chemicals pose significant health risks, particularly for pregnant women and children. PFAS are nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they are bio accumulative and don’t break down.

PFAS chemicals are linked to many health concerns including certain types of cancer, disrupting the immune system including poor response to vaccines , impaired liver function, high cholesterol, preeclampsia (potentially fatal pregnancy complication with high blood pressure), and birth defects.

We also know that studies have linked PFAS to impaired fetal development as well as interfering with the thyroid and low birth weight, which can then affect children’s brains. The CDC states that some studies in people have shown certain PFAS chemicals may affect “learning, and behavior of infants and older children.” They are such a concern that the EPA has set a lifetime health advisory level for a few of these PFAS chemicals.

Biomonitoring studies have shown that nearly every person in the U.S., including newborns, have PFAS in their bloodstream. In fact, a new study of breast milk showed that 100% of breast milk tested contained PFAS chemicals. Diet is likely to be the single largest exposure to PFAS. And these chemicals can stay in our bodies for years.

Across the country and in our state, we continue to see a rise in reporting of contaminated water from PFAS former chemicals, but there is good news.

On June 9, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill to restrict PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam and PFAS in food packaging. Firefighting foam contaminates water sources. Food packaging not only causes direct exposure when the food is eaten, but causes toxic air emissions when the packaging is incinerated. This new common-sense law will go a long way to reduce further exposure to PFAS chemicals.

LDA of Connecticut thanks the legislature for passing this bill to help protect all Connecticut families from toxic PFAS.

Gregg French of Fairfield is President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Connecticut.