March 17th, 2010
05:04 PM ET

Lax regulations on toxics put kids at risk, experts testify

By David Martin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Lax regulations expose children in the United States to dangerous levels of pesticides and other chemicals, posing an increased risk of chronic, degenerative diseases later in life, a doctor told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Dr. Ted Schettler, science director for the non-profit Science and Environmental Health Network, pointed to studies showing childhood pesticide exposure raised the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

“Compared to adults, developing children are uniquely susceptible to hazardous environmental exposures,” Schettler told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Schettler advocated an overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to better protect the public from chemicals in consumer products, food, water and air.

Dr. Gina M. Solomon, a physician who specializes in pediatric environmental health, told the committee the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to adequately protect fetuses, infants and children from a number of dangerous chemicals, including flame retardants and pesticides.

“One of the most frequent questions I hear is, “What can I do to protect myself and my family from contaminants in the air, water, food, and in my community?’ It’s often difficult to answer that question. Many hazards that can affect the health of children and families are not things that individuals can protect themselves from, even with advice from their physician,” said Solomon, a professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, and senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Last month, the EPA’s own inspector general issued a report, concluding, “EPA does not have integrated procedures and measures in place to ensure that new chemicals entering commerce do not pose an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment.”

Peter Grevatt, director of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education, said the agency was working hard to protect children from dangerous chemicals.

“Ensuring that our children are protected from exposure to environmental threats is central to EPA’s work,” Grevatt said, adding that children eat, drink and breathe more per pound than adults.

But Grevatt said the Toxic Substances Control Act made it difficult for EPA to take action against even known dangerous chemicals.

“It has … proven difficult in some cases to take action to limit or ban chemicals found to cause unreasonable risks to human health or the environment,” he said.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has supported major changes to TSCA, including requirements that manufacturers show chemicals are safe before introducing them on the market.

This year, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat is expected to introduce the Kids Safe Chemical Act, which would require industry to do just that.

Editor's note: Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at the environment and health in an upcoming hourlong investigation, Toxic Towns USA, airing April 24 at 8 p.m. ET

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