Study Calls For Efforts To Determine Effects Of Industrial Chemicals On Children's Health

An international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States is calling for efforts to determine the sources, levels of exposure, and risks that industrial chemicals pose to children's health.

The appeal is made in a report titled "Toxic Chemicals and Children's Health in North America" (released on May 17), which uses for the first time a recognized methodology (toxic equivalency potentials or TEPs) to describe the relative hazard of industrial chemical releases in North America.

The report focuses on the releases of carcinogens, developmental and reproductive toxicants, and suspected neurotoxicants, as reported by the national pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs) of Canada and the United States in 2002. It finds that lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans, phthalates and manganese are substances of either significant or emerging concern.

"In order to adequately address the risks posed by chemical releases into our environment, we need to have good information about exposure and toxicity," said Dr. Lynn Goldman, the principal author of the report and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "This report attempts to go beyond a simple listing and ranking of chemical releases to actually compare them in terms of toxicity."

Scientists at the University of California Berkeley developed the TEP approach, which is calculated by comparing the risk posed by a one-pound release of a chemical to a reference chemical (benzene for carcinogens and toluene for non-carcinogens). The model doesn't, however, directly correlate these risks to the actual exposures that can lead to learning and behavioral changes, neurological or developmental damage in children.

To better understand these risks, the report recommends that "children's health should be among the factors that guide the interpretation of PRTR data in order to identify priorities for emissions reduction and pollution prevention." It suggests that national PRTR data should be used in combination with biomonitoring studies to give a more complete picture of children's potential exposures to chemicals from mobile sources, agricultural sources (i.e., pesticide use), small sources, consumer products or natural sources.

"By increasing the amount of comparable data available on a continental basis, we hope to gain a more complete picture of the chemical releases and transfers in North America and thereby promote effective policies to protect children and the environment," affirms Keith Chanon, program manager for PRTR at the CEC. "Working trilaterally is an important means to address current data gaps regarding the effects that chemicals may have on our children and future generations."

Childhood data regarding socio-economic conditions, causes of death, and diseases related to environmental pollution are included in the report for all three North American countries. However, the report does not include an analysis of chemicals released or transferred in Mexico, as comparable data were not available for the 2002 reporting year. The Mexican government is expected to release shortly the first set of publicly available data collected under its new, mandatory reporting program (the Registro de Emisiones y Transferencia de Contaminantes) for the 2004 data year.

Additional information on the report can be accessed at http://www.cec.org.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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