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Environmental Health

Position Statement of AAIDD

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the right to live, work, learn, worship, and play in environments that are healthy and safe.

Environmental health focuses on “all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviours. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health. It is targeted towards preventing disease and creating health-supportive environments” [1]. Environmental exposures to chemicals play a key role in human growth and development, the maintenance of health, and the development of disability and disease [2,3,4,5]. The health impacts of contaminated homes, work places, and communities pose a greater risk for the developing fetus, children, and people who already have compromising health issues and are faced with health disparities. These individuals experience unique vulnerabilities. This includes individuals living with an intellectual or developmental disability. Advocacy around environmental health involves working to reduce the environmental hazards that contribute to intellectual and developmental disabilities and minimizing further risks to health for persons living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The precautionary principle calls for “producers or manufacturers of products to demonstrate safety prior to potential exposure or to use the least harmful chemicals available” [6,7]. Research into links between environmental chemicals, development, and other environmental factors (e.g., genetics, nutrition, pharmaceuticals, and stress) is needed. Studies should also address the cumulative effects of ongoing exposures or chemicals that are stored in the body over time and their effect on development of individuals living with intellectual or developmental disability 6. Policy decisions should be based on sound evidence when available and the precautionary principle when evidence is not yet available.

Numerous pollutants in the environment, including contaminants such as lead, mercury, pesticides, carbon monoxide, radon, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated flame retardants, plastic monomers (bisphenol A), plastic additives (phthalates), and solvents, can affect brain development and function and contribute to adverse health outcomes and health disparities [2,6,8,9].

With regard to environmental health, our constituents must:

  • Have the right to live in homes that are healthy and safe and do not increase risks to health.
  • Have the right to safe and healthy food, air, and water. 
  • Have the right to a safe workplace that is free from recognized safety and health hazards [10].
  • Have the right to work in settings that are in compliance with OSHA standards. 
  • Have the right to be informed of known workplace hazards and to be provided with training and equipment to minimize risks to health. 
  • Have the right to live, learn, worship, and play in communities that are healthy and safe and do not exacerbate health conditions.
  • Have the same degree of protection as other citizens from environmental health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
  • Have the right to be supported by organizations, agencies, and staff who are knowledgeable about the effects of environment on health and how to minimize risks.
  • Have the right to be protected in community-based residential settings by regulations that incorporate standards for safe and healthy environments. 
  • Have the right and responsibility to be educated and empowered with knowledge about risks to health from the environment and to make decisions to decrease exposure.

With regard to developing fetus and children:

  • Have the right to develop in an environment that is free from contaminants that can result in intellectual and developmental disabilities and environmental health challenges later in life.

AAIDD Board of Directors
July 11, 2012


1. World Health Organization. (n.d.) Health topics: Environmental health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/topics/environmental_health/en/ 

2. Grandjean, P., & Landrigan, P. J. (2006). Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals. The Lancet, 368(9553), 2167–2178.

3. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. (2011). Climate change, the indoor environment, and health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

4. Schettler, T. (2001). Toxic threats to neurologic development of children. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109(Suppl. 6), 813–816.

5. Wilson, S., Jones, L., Coussens, C., & Hanna, K. (Eds.). (2002). Cancer and the environment: Gene–environment interaction. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

6. Gilbert, S. G., Miller, E., Martin, J., & Abulafia, L. (2010). Scientific and policy statements on environmental agents associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 35(2), 121–128.

7. Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle. (1998, January 26). Precautionary principle. Science and Environmental Health Network. Retrieved from http://www.sehn.org/wing.html

8. Schroeder, S. R. (2000). Mental retardation and developmental disabilities influenced by environmental neurotoxic insults. Environmental Health Perspectives, 108(Suppl. 3), 395–399.

9. American Public Health Association. (2010, November 9). Policy Statement Database: A precautionary approach to reducing American exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Retrieved from http://www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.thm?id=1397
10. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Worker rights under The OSH [Occupational Health and Safety] Act, 1970. Retrieved from http://www.osha.gov/workers.html