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Children's Health Protection

Transcript of Podcast: Interview with Dr. Kevin Teichman, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science at the Office of Research and Development

Listen to the podcast (MP3, 5MB).

E: Research and development usually brings to mind a laboratory filled with scientists puzzling over their latest discoveries. Is this what really goes on? What kind of research is going on at the EPA? As the scientific arm of the EPA, the Office of Research and Development does much to protect human health and the environment, including children. Scientists from the office also contribute to the National Children's Study. What can we learn from it? Today I am talking with Dr. Kevin Teichman, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science at the Office of Research and Development and acting science advisor at the EPA. Dr. Teichman represents EPA on the National Children's Study Advisory Committee.

E: So to start off with some general information, how does the office of research and development protect children from environmental hazards?

K: Well EPA's laboratories are filled with scientists who make important discoveries every day and some of these discoveries deal with the relationship between children’s health and the environment. It's important to note that children experience increased exposures to many toxics because of their special behaviors such as crawling, routine hand to mouth contact, and even their play activities. Children also breathe more air and drink more fluid per body weight as compared with adults so a chemical exposure can affect children differently than a same exposure can affect an adult. And this is the type of research that we do within EPA's Office of Research and Development to tease out these issues. What are infants, children, and pregnant women exposed to and how might a small child react differently than an adult does.

E: So you also represent EPA on the National Children's Study Advisory Committee. What exactly is the National Children's Study and why is it important?

K: The National Children's Study is the largest long term study of children's health and the environment ever conducted in the United States and over 100,000 children will be monitored over the first twenty years of their lives. The study will look at how the environment affects our children's health, their growth, and their development. So the NCS as we call it will look at what children are exposed to in their environments as early as possible, even before they’re born. For example this includes chemicals that might be in the air that they or their mothers breathe or allergens that might be in their home. And so the study will look for things again as children get older and how these exposures might lead to changes in children’s health and growth. Because the National Children's Study is so large and is looking at so many different types of environments, we will be able to look at why some people get sick and others do not, even when they live in the same locations and do many of the same things.

E: How will the study help EPA protect children?

K: To understand that, one needs to appreciate that it's important to know what the exposures are ,that children are exposed to, as well as what the hazards are associated with those chemicals and this product, if you will, of exposure and hazard contributes to risk and our understanding therefore of the likelihood of potential adverse health affects. And once we have an understanding of the risks to children then we can start to look at ways to reduce the chance that pregnant women and children come in contact with those things that lead to increased risk of disease and this will help us at EPA set limits on how much of a chemical can be safely present in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods that we eat. The study will go on for many years and we’ll be able to see how things change also in the environments that children grow up in and hopefully this will advise us as well on how we might want to change the limits or standards for some chemicals in the future.

E: How can people get involved in the National Children's Study?

K: The National Children's study has already selected a sample of 105 locations and the sample was drawn from a list of all of the counties in the United States. In each of these locations, the study will take a second sample, this time of specific neighborhoods or communities and again every location has a chance but not every place will be picked. In most neighborhoods that are picked, the study will include all of the children who are born there over a four year period. If you're lucky enough to live in one of the selected neighborhoods, people from local universities or medical centers will be coming to your neighborhoods sometime in the next few years. And if they should be knocking on your door and asking you to get involved in the National Children's Study, we certainly hope you'll say yes. The Children's Study has started to recruit study participants in the first seven locations of the 105 that I mentioned and we’ll be studying those to make sure that all the measurements and home visits will work correctly before we go to the other locations. And it will be a few years before the study does go to these additional locations. But I advise folks who are interested National Children's Study to look at the website which is simply enough www.nationalchildrenstudy.gov.

E: To learn more about the EPA's Office of Research and Development, visit www.epa.gov/ord. To find out study locations, news and events about the National Children's Study, go to www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov.

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