Health Symposium:Protecting Children from Environmental Exposure
(with contributions from Audrey Blumberg, Senior
On April 2nd, 2003, Adelphi held the second in a series of public
education symposiums, entitled, "Our Children at Risk-Protecting
Children from Environmental Exposure." Like the previous event
last October, the focus concerned the links between various environmental
exposure and children's health and developmental concerns, but with
an emphasis on how to remedy these issues. Over 300 persons attended,
representing a wide spectrum of society from health care professionals,
parents, school officials, hospital administrators, educators and
representatives from local government.
the forum, Adelphi President Robert A. Scott expressed his conviction
that universities, such as Adelphi, must take a leadership role
in shaping our societal obligations to protect our children. Dr.
Scott asserted: "The presenters demonstrate the best application
of the alignment of research, education and policy. How we continue
their efforts, may represent one of the most significant legacies
we leave for our children"
executive director of Grassroots Environmental Education and visiting
scholar at Adelphi spoke first about the 'joint statement"
resulting from the first symposium. This document, signed by many
legislators, health professionals and academics, is seen as a vehicle
for making change on a local, state and national level. As stated
in its' first paragraph, "We join together as parents, scientists,
physicians, legislators, and other care givers to affirm our belief
that all children have the right to a safe and supportive environments
which helps ensure their health, development, and well-being
Ms Woods called
for creating a "new paradigm for children's health" in
order to address increasing incidences of childhood autism, cancer,
and asthma. Arguing that environmental factors have been shown more
important than genetics as the cause for illness in children, Ms.
Woods claimed that "we have failed as a society" and stressed
that education forums - like this symposium, was one way to address
these critical issues.
Senator Hillary Clinton
sent a video-taped greeting. Congratulating participants on the
conference, she went on to affirm her position, "to stand with
us and be a partner in this cause. We need to take the special needs
of children into account, now." Senator Clinton emphasized
the need to pass new legislation, enforce existing environmental
laws, and protect the public from the excesses of industry.
The third speaker, Attorney General Elliot
Spitzer gave a spirited presentation about the lack of accountability
in public and private life. Corporations, he stated, often make
decisions which may benefit their bottom line at the expense of
the public good. As an example, Spitzer cited an alarming statistic
that the average CEO compensation has gone from forty times an average
workers wages in 1980, to over 400 times that worker as of 2001.
The Clean Air
Act, Spitzer reported, is being diluted by the current administration,
leading to more acid rain, dead forests and Adirondack lakes, and
increased childhood asthma. "The Bush administration is the
first and only administration that has tried to weaken this act."
Power plants in the mid-West are a major cause of this problem,
but are getting a reprieve from an Administration that seems antithetical
to environmental regulations.
In a similar
fashion, diesel emissions from trucks and busses are posing a real
health concern that is largely unaddressed by the regulatory process.
The EPA, Spitzer pointed out, averages diesel emissions over a three
year period, which makes the problem seem non-existent and any remedial
action unnecessary. Recent studies however, show that school children
are exposed to high levels of diesel exhaust when they ride school
buses or sit in schools adjacent to idling busses. A simple law,
proposed by the Attorney General, to turn off the engines when school
buses are not in use, provides a simple remedy to improve the situation.
In the area
of pesticides, Spitzer's office also has been quite active. The
Attorney General's office worked out a consent decree to have Dow
Chemical desist from giving insufficient warnings on its Dursban
pesticide. Without these warnings, this popular pesticide, in the
same family as nerve gas, is being casually applied to lawns, educational
facilities, and other areas that children are exposed to. New York
State is now considering a lawsuit to force compliance "from
a company that makes billions, yet refuses to spend a small amount
to properly educate the public."
A forth speaker,
Dr. John Wargo, a professor of environmental policy and risk
analysis at Yale University, and is an expert in pesticide effects
on children. Professor Wargo asked the provocative question, "Can
we learn from our mistakes?" Reviewing over 100 years of environmental
blunders and tragedies (e.g. atomic weapons testing and DDT overuse),
he wondered whether the EPA is protecting the public from the thousands
of chemicals in circulation. The Clean Water act, that the EPA enforces,
currently only addressees 90 out of thousands of chemicals found
in our water. Many hazardous chemicals are allowed to stay in our
water, Wargo claimed, due to influence and pressure from business
interests. A further weakness in the EPA approach, Wargo discussed,
was the regulation of one pesticide at a time, instead of passing
regulations for groups of pesticides with similar properties. Consequently,
when a pesticide like DDT was banned, industry introduced dozens
of similar pesticides, making review and regulation of each virtually
also stressed the importance for testing pesticides in real life
situations. For example, children are exposed to a lot more pesticides
due to their diet (like drinking apple juice), their small size,
and the uniformity of their diet. Given the rate of growth in small
children, certain developing organ systems are more susceptible
to pollution since they are growing rapidly. Regulations, Wargo
argued, need to be written with the most vulnerable population in
mind. In most instances of pollution, that population is the very
young. He described his studies which put monitors on children to
detect diesel fume exposure, which reveal much greater exposure
than 3-year averages.
The final speaker
was Dr. Herbert Needleman, a pediatrician
and pioneer in research on heavy metal toxicity in children. Legislation
to limit lead levels in gasoline was largely attributable to his
studies which clearly demonstrated a dose-specific relationship
between lead and aggressive behavior, and brain damage in youngsters.
Since Roman times, humans have been aware of the dangers of lead
exposure, yet it was in the 1990's that any effective legislation
was passed to limit its spread.
and his colleagues were the first to study the long-term effects
of lead on children. He conducted a ground-breaking study that clearly
linked high lead levels to aggressive and anti- social behavior
in children. Years later, he tracked down many of the same subjects,
who often had dropped out of schools and were in prison. A further
study of prisoners clearly showed that lead toxicity was present
in a significant proportion of the prison population. Needleman
proposed that unemployed people should be trained to remove lead
from inner-city environments, to help eliminate this risk factor
for hurting another generation of children.
ended with a question and answer period when participants asked
about issues like the quality of Long Island water, how to diagnose
toxicity in children, and steps the public need to take to protect
communities. It was clear that this symposium, like the first, struck
a cord of concern with the audience. Both speakers and attendees
seemed motivated toward working for increased environmental protection
and ensuring further education efforts to keep the public abreast
of these concerns.