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Daily News Blog

17
May

Children’s Environmental Health Centers to Lose All EPA Funding Under Administration Proposal

(Beyond Pesticides, May 17, 2019) After two decades of co-sponsoring and co-funding research centers that do important scientific investigation related to children’s health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are planning to end their support. EPA has announced that it will no longer renew its grants to these centers. As of July, they will lose a huge portion of the funding that has allowed them to deploy hundreds of scientists — in genetics, toxicology, and neurodevelopment — on unusually comprehensive and longitudinal studies of what factors in children’s experiences and communities impact their health. The work of these centers has been critical in uncovering the relationships between children’s exposures to toxic chemicals, including pesticides, and diseases and health anomalies later on in their developing years.

This announcement represents yet another attack by the Trump administration on science, public health, and children and families, as well as another wink and nod to industries whose products harm. Says Tracey Woodruff, who runs the University of California, San Francisco Pregnancy Exposures to Environmental Chemicals Children’s Center: When EPA weights the harms of a chemical against its benefits, this “works out perfectly for industry. . . . If EPA doesn’t know, it counts for zero.” The centers are very concerned that EPA’s withdrawal of support will force them to shutter important, long-term research projects.

The studies conducted by these centers often begin before birth and follow subjects through childhood and into adulthood, yielding unusually rich data that can track, for example, environmental exposures early in life and subsequent and related health problems years later. In addition, these longitudinal studies can adapt to the changing mixes of exposure risks children may face over 20 years or so as they grow from newborns to young adults. Ruth Etzel, MD,  a pediatrician at EPA specializing in children’s environmental health, notes, “Twenty years ago, what we were studying is not the same as what we’re studying today. We have to study children now, in their communities.”

During the past 20+ years, centers have operated in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The centers produce work that often leads to reform in policies and practices, and ultimately, improved health outcomes. Examples include:

These centers conduct research that informs policy, but they also work — as does the Columbia center — with local communities to educate people about their findings, and about how residents can protect themselves more effectively from the chemical, particulate, or other pollution in their surrounds. Many of those communities are Environmental Justice communities that are affected disproportionately by such pollution and by a relative lack of mediation and of attention to the issue.

The withdrawal of funding by EPA will likely mean reductions in such programs, andm such losses may put at risk both the health of neighboring communities and the relationships the research centers have built with them. A pediatrician at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Aparna Bole, MD says, “I cannot think of an equivalent network that could do the same work.” Linda McCauley, RN, PhD, an environmental health researcher at the Children’s Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, notes, “All these community stakeholders have been such critical partners for this work nationally and there’s no funding. They’re the ones being hurt the most.”

NIEHS has said it is unable, without significant changes to the centers’ programs, to make up the shortfall caused by EPA’s abandonment of grant support for the centers. Kimberley Gray of NIEHS indicates that the agency is trying to capitalize on the research the centers have completed by supporting their community outreach, and is searching for ways to keep study cohorts together going forward.

The Trump EPA (and other federal agencies) are active on numerous fronts to diminish the role of science, and some scientists see this latest move as evidence of the administration’s withdrawal from protection of human — never mind environmental — health. In September 2018, EPA put Dr. Etzel,  head of its Office of Children’s Health Protection on administrative leave; she reports that she’s never been told why EPA suspended her, and has never heard from the agency since being given the notice of leave. EPA has not replaced her.

Dr. McCauley believes that that such moves are designed to benefit the chemical industry by disabling research that might point to the need for more-robust regulation. She comments, “That’s how this administration is working. They can be effective by slowing things down to a crawl.” See Beyond Pesticides Children and Schools webpage.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01491-1?fbclid=IwAR02CO1fm6jt_wThq7rqqmSP41pcFVK-TT2xIwvQ0U8Pamtwsm7vhjqzRNA

 

 

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  • Archives

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