BUDAPEST—At a meeting of European health ministers here last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) moved action against synthetic chemicals that affect child development higher on the global health agenda.

Scientists said action was overdue, with tens of thousands of novel chemicals of unknown effect circulating in our bodies, but chemical industry representatives told The Scientist the new stance could delay chemical research and development by 15 years, and raise issues of international competition and equity.

Philip Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY, said in a scientific meeting at the Budapest summit that "children are very heavily exposed to an enormous number of synthetic chemicals that have been invented in the last 30 to 50 years, that didn't even exist before, that are widespread in the environment, and present in children's bodies and mother's milk."

While the toxic effects of a few, like lead and methyl mercury, are...

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