The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), have for more than two decades sponsored a network of centers that study children’s environmental health from before birth, but now the EPA has decided not to renew the support when it runs out in July.  According to the Journal Nature, these studies “are rare and valuable, because they can reveal associations between environmental exposures early in life and health problems years later.”  The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) does not have sufficient funding on its own to continue the projects, and the centers are worried that the EPA’s withdrawal will force them to shut down their important research that protects kids.

  • For example, the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York City since 1998 has collected samples of blood, urine and even the air in children’s homes, starting even before birth, to understand the impacts of chemicals and pollutants exposure on kids, and their work led to the City’s 2018 decision to phase out diesel buses.
  • The center at the University of Illinois is currently studying how chemicals in plastics and other common products for the home might impact reproduction.

Most importantly, the centers work with local organizations to educate communities about the findings of their studies, many of which address environmental risks that impact children from low-income neighborhoods.  In addition, EPA has basically sidelined its Office of Children’s Health Protection, which advises agency leaders on the special health needs of children.  They put the head of the office on administrative leave last September and have not told her why or brought her back.

Why This Matters:  Many believe that EPA is doing the bidding of the chemical industry — by stymieing research that could suggest the need for new or tougher regulations, they can keep them from ever happening.  What you don’t know about kids’ health can’t hurt them, right?  As Tracey Woodruff, who runs the children’s center at the University of California, San Francisco explained, as the agency weighs costs/harms of a chemical against its benefits, she says, “if EPA doesn’t know, it counts for zero.”

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