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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


soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Kathleen Hurley

    Very important article – important subject. Thanks for reporting.

    On Monday, March 15, 2010, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the first time provided web access, free of charge, to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Chemical Substance Inventory.

    Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, herself a Chemical Engineer, continued to make good on the EPA commitment to increase transparency around information on chemicals.

    More at this blog: http://www.actio.net/default/index.cfm/news-events/blog/ if interested. Thanks again for important reporting.

    March 18, 2010 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Amanda

    Wow, it's great to see this being addressed seriously.

    March 18, 2010 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Stephenie Hendricks

    Thank you for getting this information out to your audiences. The work of Gina Solomon, Ted Schettler, and the people living in fenceline communities in Louisanna and Texas and elsewhere, is courageous and crucial to our capacity to have a healthy future,

    Chemicals know no boundaries, and it is too bad that consumers have to be the ones to dictate a safe market, that many companies and their trade association are finding it tough to want to produce safer products.

    Thanks to reporting like yours, more and more people can gain information they need to protect themselves and their families from the growing rates of health effects from unwelcome chemical exposures in our everyday life. Please keep on being the leader in cable news reporting on environmental health!

    March 18, 2010 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Charli

    I think making industrial chemicals safer is something we can all get behind. To ensure that we really fix this problem we must include modern science language, which necessarily utilizes non-animal methods, in this bill; otherwise we'll have another outdated bill on our hands.

    Currently, many toxicity tests are based on experiments in animals and use methods that were developed as long ago as the 1930’s; they and are slow, inaccurate, open to uncertainty and manipulation, and do not adequately protect human health. These tests take anywhere from months to years, and tens of thousands to millions of dollars to perform. More importantly, the current testing paradigm has a poor record in predicting effects in humans and an even poorer record in leading to actual regulation of dangerous chemicals.

    Alternatives to animal testing exist in a powerful way and many scientists advocate them. Chemical reform should not only modernize policy, but modernize the science that supports that policy. Let's ensure chemical reform uses all the necessary tools to truly make humans, our environment, and animals safe.

    March 19, 2010 at 17:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Center for Environmental Health

    Thanks for this great article.

    One thing on the table is the Children's Toxic Metals Act, which would protect children from cadmium and other dangerous metals in jewelry. You can tell your reps to support this bill here:

    http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6016/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=2221

    And visit us at:
    http://www.generationgreen.org

    Maggie
    Center for Environmental Health

    March 19, 2010 at 19:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ahmad Mahdavi

    Yes they are more sensitive to different environmental pollution and in particular to toxins. Nowadays every newborn carry some different toxins from Mother's body. Detoxifying enzymes and for most Cytochrom P-450 dependent monooxygenases develop by age so children have less developed detoxification enzymes in their body. One important fact is that children in developing countries are more exposed to these toxins compared to children of developed World and we need more and more information communications about these problems in developing countries.

    March 28, 2010 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.