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Children's Health Protection

Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children: Activities and Accomplishments

A detailed summary of the specific accomplishments of the Task Force and its members follows.

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Children's Environmental Health and Safety Inventory of Research (CHEHSIR)

The Children's Environmental Health and Safety Inventory of Research (CHEHSIR) was created in response to the Executive Order and was one of the first activities undertaken by the Task Force. CHEHSIR, a database of all research and information funded by the Federal Government related to adverse environmental health or safety risks affecting children, was meant to insure that information about children's environmental health is available to researchers during the planning stages of a project to allow future research to build on available information.

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Asthma is the most common chronic disorder among American children. It affects more than 9.1 million children (12% of all children) under the age of 18 (Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2003, National Center for Health Statistics). Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism - 14.7 million school days are missed each year (Asthma Prevalence: Health Care Use and Mortality, 2002, National Center for Health Statistics). In 2002, the cost of asthma to the US economy was $14 billion (Morbidity & Mortality: 2002 Chart Book on Cardiovascular, Lung, and Blood Diseases, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute).

  • In 1999, the Task Force developed Asthma and the Environment- A Strategy to Protect Children (PDF) (24 pp, 147K) to further understand how environmental factors relate to the onset of asthma and triggers of asthma attacks. It made four recommendations for action:

    1. Strengthen and accelerate focused research into the environmental factors that cause or worsen childhood asthma.
    2. Implement public health programs that improve use of scientific knowledge to prevent and reduce the severity of asthma symptoms by reducing environmental exposures.
    3. Establish a coordinated nationwide asthma surveillance system for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating health outcome and risk factor data at the state, regional and local levels.
    4. Identify the reasons for and eliminate the disproportionate burden of asthma among different racial and ethnic groups and those living in poverty
  • Through websites, publications, and presentations, members of the Task Force reached out to health care providers, school officials, and parents to encourage them to take steps to reduce children's exposures to environmental triggers.
  • It also made data on asthma more readily available and worked with state and local health departments to use the data more effectively.
  • The National Asthma Education Program Conference took place in June 2003.
  • The Task Force supported efforts of the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to work with state health and environmental agencies to develop and implement a national asthma action agenda to reduce environmental triggers of childhood asthma. Forty-one states participated in the process.
  • In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced federal funding in the form of grants for state environment and health departments to enhance or develop tracking of chronic diseases including asthma.

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Unintentional Injuries

Injuries are the leading cause of death and hospitalization among children and teens in the United States. Nearly 20,000 (34%) of the 57,000 deaths in this age group are caused by injuries. The most serious of the nonfatal injuries is traumatic brain injury.

To address unintentional injuries, the Task Force partnered with the National Transportation Safety Board on a national program that focuses on the correct use of bicycle helmets, seat belts, and child-safe car seats.

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Developmental Disorders/Lead

Lead can be highly toxic when absorbed in to the body, especially for young children. Lead poisoning can cause developmental disorders that impair a child's ability to think, learn and concentrate. In the past 20 years lead has been removed from gasoline, paint, food cans, and other products, thereby significantly decreasing childhood lead poisoning. Although lead poisoning is preventable, it continues to affect the lives hundreds of thousands of children in the United States. Low income and minority children are disproportionately affected by lead poisoning.

  • Eliminating Childhood Lead Poisoning, A Federal Strategy Targeting Lead Paint Hazards (PDF) (91 pp, 2MB) was developed in 2000. Its recommendations include:

    • Act before children are poisoned: Target federal grants for low-income housing and leverage private and other non-federal funds to control lead paint hazards; promote education for universal lead-safe painting, renovation, and maintenance work practices; and ensure compliance and enforcement of lead paint laws.
    • Identify and care for lead-poisoned children: Improve early intervention by expanding blood lead screening and follow-up services for at-risk children, especially Medicaid-eligible children.
    • Conduct research: Improve prevention strategies, promote innovative ways to drive down lead hazard control costs and quantify the ways in which children are exposed to lead.
    • Measure progress and refine lead poisoning prevention strategies: Implement monitoring and surveillance programs.

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Childhood Cancer

In March 2002, the National Cancer Institute sponsored an international workshop on "Gene-Environment Interactions in the Etiology of Childhood Cancer." The workshop was very well attended-approximately 100 speakers and participants represented multiple agencies and groups including NCI, EPA, CDC, academia, and the public. One of the recommendations that came out of the workshop was to use "collaborative networks and international studies to obtain large case numbers to study cancer subtypes and exploit unique patterns of exposure."

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More than 53 million children and almost 3 million adults spend a significant portion of their days in approximately 112,000 public and private school buildings, many of which are old and inadequately maintained, and which often contain environmental conditions that inhibit learning and pose increased risks to the health of children and staff.

The Task Force has taken on several projects that promote environmental health in schools:

  • The Inventory of Federal School Environmental Health Activities (PDF) (41 pp, 368K) documents and categorizes federal school environmental health programs. It will be used in the development of an interagency strategy on school environmental health issues and will be made available on-line when it is completed. The inventory will be updated periodically as new information on relevant programs becomes available.
  • The Healthy School Environments Web Portal provides the public with access to one-stop on-line resources from EPA, other Federal Agencies, states, local governments and non-governmental organizations.
  • EPA guidance to help school administrators, facility planners, architects and engineers design, construct and renovate schools. Indoor Air Quality Design Tools for Schools emphasizes the importance of building high performance schools using good indoor air quality goals, principles and techniques.
  • The Department of Energy has developed the National Best Practices Manual for Building High Performance Schools, an online resource for architects and engineers who are responsible for designing or retrofitting schools, and for the project managers who work for the design teams.

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The National Children's Study

The National Children's Study is a large, long-term study of environmental influences on children's health and development that grew out of the Task Force. The National Children's Study has been proposed and developed through the cooperation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Children's Study will examine the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the United States, following them from before birth until age 21. The goal of the study is to improve the health and well-being of children.

Endorsement of the National Children's Study (then called the Longitudinal Cohort Study) was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law on October 17, 2000 as a part of the Children's Health Bill of 2000 (Public Law 106-310).

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Children's Health Month

For the first time ever, the Task Force agencies coordinated federal efforts to highlight the importance of protecting children's health during Children's Health Month in October 2002.

Activities included:

  • A government-wide tagline and logo for the month, "Discover the Rewards" of protecting children's health
  • A unique October calendar with a "tip" for each day of the month on topics ranging from disease and injury prevention to environmental safety to school health
  • A Children's Health Month Website that directed visitors to a wide range of environmental health and safety topics covered by the federal government
  • A Child Health Presidential Proclamation calling "upon families, schools, child health professionals, communities, and governments to help all of our children discover the rewards of good health and wellness"
  • Events throughout the month highlighting government efforts to protect children's health.

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