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New Children's Environmental Health Centers Announced by EPA and NIEHS

Release Date: 10/25/2001
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(#01130) NEW YORK, N.Y. — EPA Administrator Christie Whitman and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Director, Dr. Kenneth Olden, today announced four new children’s environmental health research centers that will focus on childhood autism and such behavioral problems as attention deficit disorder. Whitman and Olden made the announcement during a visit to Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"These new centers - and the eight already in existence across the country - will continue to perform and apply research that can help shed light on the links between the environment and the health of our children," said EPA Administrator Whitman. "They can help us take children’s health protection to a new level, and I am proud to be working with NIEHS and everyone at UC-Davis, University of Illinois, Robert Wood Johnson, and this wonderful Children’s Hospital to make it happen."

The new centers will receive $5 million, or about $1 million per year for five years. EPA and NIEHS, part of the federal National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, already fund eight children’s environmental health research centers.

Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati will work with community participants to assess the impact of reducing pollutants in the home and neighborhood on children’s hearing, behavior and test scores. A center at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana will assess the impact of exposure to mercury and PCBs among two groups of Asian-Americans in Wisconsin, whose diets are heavy in fish from the Great Lakes. At the University of California at Davis and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, researchers will study environmental factors that may be related to autism.

"These centers will help us understand whether environmental factors play a role in the progress of autism and other childhood disorders and illnesses," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "Ultimately the research conducted at these centers will allow us to better target our health and prevention efforts in order to do the most to improve the lives of America’s children."

In jointly announcing the new center grants, NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D. said, "We all witness the miraculous development of newborns and young children as they undergo great physical and mental changes in just a few years. But sometimes a child tragically loses, or never attains, his or her ability to speak or interact socially. Other times, a child’s development or concentration is impaired. We know that in some cases, lead exposure has been the culprit, so we as a nation have removed lead from paint and gasoline - and taken other steps so that kids today are testing smarter than youngsters a generation ago. But lead is not the only potential development toxin. We want to see what other environmental substances might trigger developmental problems - so that we can reduce the exposures and prevent the damage."

The four new centers join eight already established (in 1998) at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Washington, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Md., Columbia University, in New York City, and the Mount Sinai Medical Center, also in New York City, in partnership with community groups in East Harlem.

The following describes the research programs planned in Region 2:

ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON MEDICAL SCHOOL/UNIVERSITY OF MEDICINE AND DENTISTRY OF NEW JERSEY - Under George Lambert as principal investigator, this Center for Childhood Neurotoxicology and Assessment will seek to determine the possible influence of mercury, lead and valproic acid, a drug commonly used to control seizures, on autism, learning disabilities and regression -- a situation in which children who appear to be developing normally start losing their language and social skills and lapse into autism. Studies will look at critical windows for brain development in the forebrain and hindbrain and will attempt to link exposures or disturbances at these times to subsequent behavior. Researchers will also look at children's variable genetic susceptibility to environmental poisons. MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) will be used to see if children with higher exposures to environmental poisons have different patterns of brain growth and development.