Protecting children

I have focused on many environmental problems and how they effect children’s health. This week, I would like to focus on preventative measures to ensure that the health of a child is not comprised as a result of an easily fixable situation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers several suggestions broken down into easily accessible categories. These categories consist tips to help children breath easier, protecting children from lead poisoning,  pesticides and other chemicals, carbon monoxide poisoning, contaminated fish and polluted water, high levels of radon, too much sun, mercury and promoting healthier communities.

For this post, I would like to focus on the first four issues.

Most of the suggestions to help children breath easier seem fairly obvious. However, what seems obvious to me, may not be obvious to others. Therefore I will review the suggestions. The first involves cigarette smoking. Don’t let people smoke in your home or car. The smell will be left behind and can be very problematic especially for children with pre-existing conditions such as asthma. Next, me sure to remove unnecessary contaminants by cleaning your house often. These unwanted guests include dust, mold, household pests, secondhand smoke and pet dander which can trigger asthma and allergies.

Be mindful of ozone alert days and decrease the time spent outdoors as the air pollution is even stronger on these days. Try to limit the amount of toxins released into the air by utalizing alternative transportation. Personally, when I am traveling anywhere in Bowling Green, I leave my car and walk. Other suggestions include biking, joinging carpools and using public transportation.

Next on the list is preventing lead poisoning. All children should be tested for lead poisoning by their doctor. Homeowners should also check for hazardous paint if the building was built before 1978 when paint was allowed to contain high concentrations of lead. Children’s hands should always be washed before eating because children usually ingest lead after touching contaminated paint and then unknowingly consuming it. Similarly bottles, pacifiers and toys should be washed regularly.

In old homes, parents should be especially careful in washing floors and window sills to remove dust and paint chips which could contain lead.

Pesticides and other toxic chemicals can also be extremely harmful to children. It is important to remember that insect killer and rat poison is also toxic to humans. To prevent using these substances, people should take the necessary measures to stop insects and small animals from coming into the house. Food and trash should always be stored properly so that pests are unaware of it and they don’t feel compelled to enter the home.  If pests are already in your home, you should use traps in place of poison. Also, be sure to store the chemicals in a safe location, where children can not reach them.

When dealing with pesticides or fertilizers, one should always keep children, toys and pets away from the area in which they are used. Most labels notify the user when it is safe for children and animals to be in the same area in which the product was applied. It is also a common practice to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them and to peal them.

The last area I want to focus on is protecting children from carbon monoxide poisoning. The web site recommends checking fireplaces, chimneys and other items of this nature once a year. Only use ovens, burners, grills and other fire producing appliances for their intended purpose. Kerosene space heaters can be very dangerous and therefore children should never sleep in the same room with one. Carbon monoxide alarms should also be installed in or near bedrooms. Lastly cars and lawnmowers should not be run inside garages as the gasses tend to collect and can cause deadly results.

Even though I think most of these tips are common sense, I still feel that it is important for the EPA to provide these suggestions. When it comes down to it, it is better to be safe than sorry. Also in highly stressful situations, it is easy for parents or caregivers to become wrapped up in the moment and forget things of this nature. Therefore it is good for them to be able to reference them in a quick and effective manner.


Lead and turf

My next topic comes from a blog written by Dr. Alan Greene on the Healthy Child Healthy World web site. Healthy Child Healthy World is a non-profit organization focused protecting the health and well being of children from environmental exposures through education and support of policies.

On June 18, 2008 an advisory was issued by the CDC alerting consumers that children could be in danger of comming in contact with lead on some syhthetic turfs, especially young children on old fields with visible wear or dust.

Although Dr. Greene says the advisory is still in effect, the Consumer Product Safety Commission disagreed after researching the topic.

On July 30, the CPSC said

young children are not at risk from exposure to lead in these fields and none of these fields released amounts of lead that would be harmful to children.

Dr. Greene disagrees.

He believes the research did not include a large enough sample being that only six of the fields in question were tested as well as new samples sent directlyfrom the manufacturer. Four of the six fields had lead in amounts ranging from 0.09 percent to 0.96 percent.  This is 50 to 500 percent above the amount of lead allowed in paint.

Lead exposure from pain is usually released in dust that could accumulate on children’s hands and then be rubbed into their mouths. When this theory also proved to be true of the turf that was tested.

The CPSA claims that blood levels less than mcg/dL are acceptable in children. However many studies have found levels under 10 responsible for impairing children’s cognitive function and lowering their IQ.

Another risk is ADHD.

According to the blog,

A blood lead level as low as 2 mcg/dL is linked to a 4.1 fold increase in the risk of ADHD. Even a level of 1 mcg/dL doubles the risk. Experts estimate that an extra 290,000 children in the US have ADHD because of lead exposure.

Despite the CPSC’s reluctance, they have asked turf manufactures to stop using lead.

As I have written elsewhere, I see synthetic turf fields as a complex issue with advantages and disadvantages for our health and for the environment. It will be a while before some of the science is sorted out. In the meantime, I believe that synthetic turf fields should be held to the same 0.06 percent maximum lead content standard that applies to other surfaces such as paint, furniture, and to toys and other items intended for use by children.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted research on the effects of prenatal arsenic exposure. Babies were exposed to the arsenic through their mothers who drank contaminated water during their pregnancy. The introduction of the chemical caused “gene expression changes”. According to the study this type of change can cause cancer and other diseases later in life.

In addition to this, the study also focused on methods for identifying arsenic contamination through population screening. Thirty-two mothers and their children were involved in a genetic epidemiologic study in a province of Thailand with contaminated water. The average level of arsenic was 503.5 micrograms a liter. This amount is nearly 50 times higher than current U.S standards allow.

Scientists were able to pinpoint 11 gene transcripts that could identify if the infant was exposed to arsenic. This method had an 80 percent accuracy rate.

The study found that

Eight of the 11 genes were involved in inflammatory processes. This is the first time evidence of such genome-wide changes resulting from prenatal exposure has ever been documented from any environmental contaminant. It suggests that even when water supplies are cleaned up and the children never experience any direct exposure to the pollutant, they may suffer lasting damage.

Dr. Leslie Robison, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota researched the connection between parental exposure to chemicals and their children’s risk of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This is a field of study in which little research has been conducted.

Information was gathered from a large control group in California studied by the Children’s Oncology Group. The children’s DNA was examined for the type of mutations that cause ALL. Of the 837 children, 127 had the mutation.

Parental chemical exposure increased the risk for developing ALL in these children. Examples of these chemicals include marijuana, LSD, cocaine, which have an even stronger affect when used by the mother than when used by the father.

The mother’s exposure to solvents and plastics during pregnancy greatly increased the risks. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the risk is eight times higher when mothers are exposed to plastics after pregnancy.

Oil and coal product exposure also increased the risk of children developing ALL.

In previous studies, parental occupational exposure to hydrocarbons, such as chlorinated solvents, benzene, and paints, has been linked to elevated childhood leukemia risk. The present study has extended these findings to include drugs of abuse and additional chemical exposures and to link them to  mutations.

Therefore environmental contaminants are not only a concern for those in direct contact with them and stronger efforts should be made to implement and enforce safety regulations.


Millions of American lives are plagued by asthma. The United States Environmental Health Policy describes symptoms of the disease as inflamed airways, difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing.

The disease is common among children. In the United States alone six million children suffer from asthma. As a result, many children visit hospital emergency rooms and stay home from school.

Several groups are trying to find more information on asthma. More specifically they are researching how asthma develops in children, who is most susceptible to the disease and what environmental factors cause it and what can be done to reduce symptoms.

According to Johns Hopkins,

Asthma rates among children remain at historically high levels.  However, the causes of asthma remain uncertain and appear to be complex, so the U.S. government has identified asthma as a top priority for research.  The Children’s Centers are addressing the etiology of asthma from a number of different perspectives, including the Centers at Columbia, Johns Hopkins, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan and USC/UCLA.

Some of the studies have found that risks are higher for developing asthma in children two or younger that live within 82 yards of a major roadway. This applies to children with and without a family history of asthma. According to the United Sates Environmental Protection Agency the connection between living near a road and asthma, is stronger among girls.

Children living 0.12 miles away from a major road had a reduced risk.

Research on air pollution and asthma from the Children’s Centers has broadened our understanding of the inflammatory process in the lung and have shown that the effects of air pollution can be seen in school-age children as increased exacerbation of asthma symptoms and increased days absent from school.

The John Hopkins study showed that a reduction in particulate matter and indoor allergens in inner-city homes decreased asthma symptoms among children.

Other studies showed that children raised on a farm or in another rural part of the country, had less symptoms.

From these studies we can conclude that air pollution is a huge problem children are facing in today’s cities. Without the practice of more environmentally friendly procedures, the health of these children will continue to be at risk.

In today’s society, the decision of whether or not to breast feed children is often called into question. The issue that society should be concerned with is not the location of the act, but the actual act itself. With toxins released at an increasing rate, it is all to common to pass along contaminated milk from mother to child.

While breast milk is typically responsible for healthier babies, it can also cause illness if contaminated by pollutants. Typically breast fed children have reduced risks of infection, allergy, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and various cancers in childhood and adulthood. Children not breast fed are are more likely to experience illness during the first two years of life as the immune and nervous systems are still developing.

According to the October issue of Environmental Health Perspectives breast milk is  likely to contain persistent organic pollutants, pesticides, heavy metals and other contaminates. This leads many researchers and parents to wonder if the risks are worth the benefits.

The article states,

Today, the prevalence of initial breastfeeding among U.S. mothers is about 71%, according to a report in the 3 August 2007 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, but only 11–14% of infants are exclusively breastfed (i.e., consume nothing else, including water) in the first 6 months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Among this 71% only 16% of infants are breastfed at the age of one.

According to the article, DDT was the first environmental pollutant found in breast milk. IT was discovered in 1951. Today’s infants risk being exposed to DDT as well as several other chemicals.

Lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium are a few examples of metal that can be found in mother’s milk. However, these aren’t as dangerous as some of the other contaminants found in milk.

The mother’s exposure to lead and mercury is more critical during fetal development than during breastfeeding, as the fetus is more vulnerable through placental transfer than through milk.

Another important factor to consider is malnutrition. If a mother does not have access to a nutritious diet, her milk will not be nutritious.

The protein, fat and carhoyhdrate component of breast milk is not greatly affected by a maternal diet. However the same does not hold true for vitamins and minerals which are accessed only when the mother eats properly.

Despite the known risks, the WHO, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommend breastfeeding.

To date, no environmental contaminant, except in situations of acute poisoning, has been found to cause more harm to infants than does lack of breastfeeding. I have seen no data that would argue against breastfeeding, even in the presence of today’s levels of environmental toxins.

Every news organization reported on the devastation of 9/11 but one element that isn’t covered as well is how the day’s destruction effected the health of nearby school children.

The issue was addressed this month in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP),  a monthly journal of peer-reviewed research and news regarding the impact of the environment on human health.  The journal is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The article states that 3,184 children, 18 and under were greatly impacted by air pollution. These children include those in the lower Manhattan area due to living arrangements, school or other conditions that brought them to the area such offering assistance. Most of the children suffered from increased asthma rates.

In the first report of children enrolled in this registry, researchers observe that preschoolers exposed to smoke and dust from the collapsing towers had asthma rates twice the national average following the 9/11 attack, whereas asthma rates in exposed older children remained about average. Children in certain ethnic groups also experienced disproportionate asthma rates, although the reasons for this are unclear.

Research included phone interviews during 2003 and 2004 with the parents of younger children or children who had turned 18 after the 9/11 attacks. Research found that over half of the children were now having respiratory problems including coughing and sinus problems.

According to the article, Nearly 6% of the children were diagnosed with asthma after 9/11. During the interviews, 16% of children then aged 2–4 years had been diagnosed with asthma. This is more than twice the average for children that age in the Northeast. Asthma rates in older children weren’t as extreme when compared to original statistics, as their rate was only slightly higher than normal rates.

Asthma normally develops before children turn five and usually an environmental irritant triggers the onset.

The article states that the extreme amounts of smoke and dust from the collages could have been just such a trigger. Researchers point out that the older children might have had fewer new diagnoses because most children with asthma would have already been diagnosed at a younger age, prior to 9/11.

Another important factor is race. The study concluded that African American and Hispanic children are normally have a greater risk of being diagnosed with asthma than Caucasians or Asians.

Reasons for the racial disparities are unclear, although prior studies on ethnic disparities in asthma suggest that both genetics and environment may play a role in etiology of the disease. Children of all ages and ethnicity’s were more likely to develop asthma if they were caught in the cloud of cement dust created by the collapsing towers, as pulverized cement dust is known to irritate mucous membranes.

Although the study has missing information, such as how long after the attacks the children developed asthma and the inclusion of other contributing factors, such as genetics, the study is still of great importance. This study includes the largest collection of post-disaster data of children and it could potentially influence more children given that tens of thousands of New York City children could have been exposed to smoke and dust as a result of the attacks.