One Voice: Prioritize the Health of Our Children

One Voice: Prioritize the Health of Our Children

To commemorate World Environmental Health Day this year and its focus on children’s environment and health, CHE is publishing a series of short essays from partners who are leaders in children’s environmental health.

MaidaGalvezwritten by Maida Galvez, MD, MPH
CHE Partner

As an environmental pediatrician and mom, I worry about the thousands of chemicals that get put in our environment. I worry that many of these chemicals are universally detectable in the US population, that higher levels can often be found in children and racial/ethnic minorities, and that the majority have not been tested for basic safety for health effects, especially in vulnerable populations like pregnant women, infants and children. I worry that products are put into the marketplace and decades later we find that they may impact children’s health, their intelligence, their behavior and their risk for chronic conditions like asthma, ADHD, autism and obesity. I hear this worry directly when families, health care providers, communities and schools call our Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) and ask, “Did exposure to this chemical harm my child?”

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We Need a Rational Policy on Chemical Safety

We Need a Rational Policy on Chemical Safety

To commemorate World Environmental Health Day this year and its focus on children’s environment and health, CHE is publishing a series of short essays from partners who are leaders in children’s environmental health.

written by Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, FAAP
CHE Partner and Chair of CHE’s Science Advisory Committee

Children’s health and the environment is a most fitting topic for World Environmental Health Day 2015. Children are the most vulnerable among us to degradation of the environment. Any actions that we take to protect infants and children against health threats in the environment will protect not only children, but will also safeguard all of us and preserve the health and well-being of future generations.

Toxic chemicals are a particularly serious threat to children’s health. More than 80,000 new synthetic chemicals have been invented in the past 50 years. These chemicals are found in thousands of products that we use every day. They have become widespread in the earth’s environment. They are routinely detected in the bodies of all Americans in annual surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And time and time again synthetic chemicals that we carelessly incorporated into consumer products with no premarket safety testing have been found to cause disease in children—cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and impairment of the reproductive organs.

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An American in the European Union: Thoughts on Chemical Policy, Cancer and Climate Change

Michael Lerner
President, Commonweal
Vice-Chair, CHE

This past month I spent a week visiting with CHE Partners in London, Brussels and Geneva. We had an especially valuable meeting in Brussels at the office of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), an anchor CHE Partner in the European Union. At that meeting, 25 scientists and policy advocates working on environmental health issues gathered for a half day of discussions. Below I offer some of my reflections on the current state of chemical policy efforts and related initiatives in the European Union (EU).

Chemical policy

The widely agreed on master narrative in the EU is that a remarkable coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) came together to help pass the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals policy (REACH) by the European Commission. This new set of regulations is seen as a major step forward for precautionary chemical management by many in Europe, the US, and around the world.

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Reducing Exposures to EDCs

Elise Miller, MEd

The Endocrine Society is certainly not a “household” name – nor an organization you may have even thought about before. But no one concerned about public health and the environment can overestimate the significance of The Endocrine Society’s new scientific report stating that exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are a growing threat to human health and well-being (download the report from the Endocrine Society website). EDCs are synthetic chemicals found in everyday products—from lotions to can linings—that can disrupt the hormonal messaging system that choreographs the development and maintenance of the body’s biological systems.

The Endocrine Society’s statement, based on a thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed data from animal and human studies, indicates that exposures to EDCs are contributing to a wide range of public health concerns, including various cancers, reproductive health problems, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and neurological disorders. Of particular concern, the report states, are minute exposures to EDCs in the womb and early childhood during critical windows of development, which can have lifelong adverse health impacts.

The statement also emphasizes that disease prevention is predicated on reducing exposures to EDCs, and asserts that “Our chemical policies at the local, state and national levels, as well as globally, need to be formulated, financed and implemented to ensure the best public health.” In addition, the report explicitly states that “the precautionary principle is critical to enhancing health.”

This report, of course, is not the first time these issues have been raised – the seminal book, Our Stolen Future, co-authored by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers and published in 1996, clearly lays out the accumulated science over 50 years related to these concerns. However, this is the first time such a highly respected international medical society – an organization of over 14,000 members in 100 countries – has taken such an unqualified stance on EDCs.

Given the stature of The Endocrine Society, this groundbreaking statement sends a clear signal to other health professionals as well as policymakers that we simply cannot ignore environmental contributors to a wide range of diseases and disabilities. As members of CHE, we can bring this message to our own constituencies. For some, that might mean urging a health-related professional society to publicly endorse The Endocrine Society’s statement or develop its own resolution highlighting these findings. For others, this might mean using this statement to press for chemical policy reform on state, national and international levels.

Whatever you choose to do, know that this statement is not just another inscrutable scientific treatise (see a related New York Times column: “It’s Time to Learn From Frogs“), but a call to action to improve the health of our families and communities as well as future generations. To learn more about the implications of this statement and other ways the precautionary principle is being invoked and implemented, please join us for our next CHE Partner call, Precaution’s Reach: A Principle in Action, on July 28th.

Our Health and the Health of the Environment: How Are They Connected? What Can We Do to Improve Both?

The CHE Public Policy Primer

Webster’s defines a primer as a book of elementary principles or a book for teaching children how to read. The new CHE primer Our Health and the Health of the Environment: How Are They Connected? What Can We Do To Improve Both? aims at providing its readers with some elemental principles of environmental health.

Through the examples of asthma, learning disabilities and breast cancer, the primer explains what we are learning about the links between chronic illness, toxic chemicals and other environmental contaminants. The primer also gives examples of legislative and corporate policies aimed at improving our health and the health of the environment.

CHE Partners are encouraged to use the primer as part of discussions with elected officials or those running for public office. Printed copies are available free from CHE or a PDF version of primer may be downloaded.

Policies to Expand the Use of Health Tracking and Biomonitoring

Policies that Use Precaution to Make Decisions

Purchasing for Environmental Health

Creating a Chemicals Policy

Policies Championed by CHE Partners