A most-pressing Health Affair: Acting as if our children’s health matters

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Health policy history of sorts was made this week:  The prestigious journal Health Affairs, the nation’s leading journal of health policy, unveiled its first-ever issue devoted entirely to environmental health.  It did so via a briefing held in Washington, DC on Wednesday that featured several pre-eminent environmental health experts, including David Fukuzawa, Program Director for Health at The Kresge Foundation; Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); and Kenneth Olden, Professor and Founding Dean at the new City University of New York’s School of Public Health and former long-time NIEHS Director.

A sneak peak has been provided via advanced publication of some of the journal issue’s articles.  Prominent among the themes of these articles:  The high and increasing health and economic costs of unregulated exposures to unsafe and inadequately tested chemicals.

I’ll call attention here to two papers in particular:

The first of these papers documents the enormous – and rising – economic costs to society from lead poisoning, prenatal methylmercury exposure, childhood cancer, asthma, intellectual disability, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder linked directly to toxic chemical exposures.

The second paper reviews the overwhelming evidence that children are far more vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposures than adults, and that “chemical exposures early in life are significant and preventable causes of disease in children and adults.”

Both papers conclude we need dramatic changes in our nation’s policies governing industrial and consumer chemicals if we are to reduce this huge health and economic burden on our society.

Among the changes called for:

  • a legal mandate to test the toxicity of chemicals already in commerce;
  • premarket evaluation and testing of new chemicals; and
  • epidemiologic monitoring and focused health studies of exposed populations.

If these sound familiar, they should:  All of them are prominent features of the platform of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition.  And even more encouraging, they are all core elements of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, introduced last month by Senator Frank Lautenberg and four colleagues.

Advancing this legislation would go far to demonstrating our nation’s willingness to act as if our children’s health matters.

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