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Chemical Industry and Researchers Ask for National Children's Study Funding
(Beyond Pesticides, April 29, 2004)
According to the American Chemistry Council briefing yesterday, the national longitudinal cohort study of environmental influences on children's health and development is underway, but needs an additional $27 million for fiscal year 2005 to begin implementation. The National Children's Study (NCS) will examine the effects of environmental influences (including physical, chemical, biological, and psychosocial) on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the U.S., following them from before birth until age 21. The study is part of the Children's Health Act of 2000 (public law 106-310), which was sponsored by Rep. Michael Bilirakis (FL-9) and Senator Bill Frist (TN), and is coordinated by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

According to Philip Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc., Professor and Chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and one of the presenters at the briefing, "This study will make unique and significant contributions to our understanding of how behavioral, social and environmental factors early in life may cause or predispose individuals to certain chronic diseases or conditions."

Other NCS supporters, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children's Environmental Health Network, believe that this long-term study will provide the definitive answers necessary for new regulations and laws protecting children from exposure to toxins. Even the American Chemistry Council is in support of the study, stating, "A long-term, national study … is the best hope for identifying the influences and interactions between genes and environment that influence the development of children."

Since enactment of the legislation, working groups have been completing the research protocols to study the environmental links to diseases and are ready to begin implementation. Yet, NICHD did not receive the funds it needed for fiscal year 2004, delaying the study by one year. For fiscal year 2005, President Bush has requested $12 million to only allow the planning activities to continue, which the NCS supporters state will delay it by at least an additional year.

The $27 million requested by NCS researchers will begin the implementation phase of the study, currently planned for late 2005. The funds would go towards:

  • A data coordinating center;
  • A repository where blood, urine and other samples obtained during the study would be stored; and,
  • The establishment of four regionally distributed vanguard sites across the nation, where NICHD would start to recruit participants and test out the protocols to ensure that the study goes smoothly when it ramps up to testing 100,000 children from birth to 21.

NCS supporters state that childhood diseases of environmental origin cost Americans nearly $54.9 billion annually. According to a recent Washington Post article, the total cost for the 25-year NCS is around $2.7 billion.

George Daston, Ph.D., a Research Fellow at Procter & Gamble, stated in his briefing presentation that one of the reasons why the "business community" supports NCS is the study's broad definition of "environment." Yet, others may be concerned that too broad a definition will water-down the results.

The study will take a number of issues into account, including:

  • Natural and man-made environment factors;
  • Biological and chemical factors;
  • Physical surroundings;
  • Social factors;
  • Behavioral influences and outcomes;
  • Genetics;
  • Cultural and family influences and differences; and,
  • Geographic locations.

Lee Salamone with the American Chemistry Council told the Washington Post, "I think [NCS] will be another data point that will show that chemicals found at low levels in the environment are not the biggest risk in this country to children's health."

Many pesticide reform activists believe that the body of evidence on children's exposure to pesticides is enough to warrant immediate action to eliminate exposure to highly toxic pesticides and implement viable alternative strategies.

Children are especially susceptible to toxins in the environment. The National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Pediatrics have found that pound for pound, children eat more food, breathe more air, and drink more water than adults, and thus are more heavily exposed to toxins that enter their bodies through those avenues. Moreover, their rapid development creates windows of great vulnerability. Yet, fewer than half of the 75,000 synthetic chemicals in the environment to which children are potentially exposed, have been tested for their potential risks to health. Fewer still of these chemicals have been tested for their possible developmental toxicity to infants and children, according to Dr. Landrigan.

According to NICHD, findings from the study will be made available as soon as possible as the research progresses. It is anticipated that the preliminary results from the first years of the study will be available in 2008-2009.

An October 29, 2003 Beyond Pesticides Daily News article highlights the three articles in the October 2003 issue of Environmental Health Perspective, which discuss the needs for researching the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on children in the National Children's Study.

TAKE ACTION: Those interested can offer input via the National Children's Study email at NCS@mail.nih.gov. For more information, contact Beyond Pesticides.