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$300-Million Funded Research Strongly Links Children's Chronic Disease to Toxic Exposure

Research funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) demonstrates that children in the U.S. are at high risk for chronic disease as a result of exposures to environmental toxicants.

This 300-million-dollar funded research program identified toxic chemical exposure as playing a strong role in the development of asthma, obesity, ADHD, and cancer. Outcomes of these studies highlighted how toxic body burden in children not only puts them at risk for poorer health and learning disabilities, but can set the trajectory of health throughout their adult life. 

I encourage everyone to read the full impact report to better understand just how much our environment plays a role in our health, not just in this lifetime, but for generations after us.

This research, collected over the last 20 years (1998-2016), has been disseminated through thousands of publications in diverse and peer–reviewed journals (2544 Publications) and is truly an eye-opening synopsis showing strong linkage of disease burden to toxic environmental exposure.   

Impact Overview

One area of study focused on how prenatal and early life environmental exposures interfere with the function and regulation of the immune system. These studies demonstrated how dysregulation of the immune system may influence the onset of childhood leukemia and other atopic diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and eczema.

FACT: The number of children with Leukemia have increased 35% over the last 40 years!

Key Findings:

  • Children diagnosed with leukemia have decreased levels of the immunoregulatory cytokine IL-10 at birth, that may later result in more severe responses to common childhood infections.
  • Exposure to air pollution was linked to changes in the DNA of immune cells. These changes may lead to impaired cellular function.
  • Exposure to air pollution, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), was associated with decreased regulatory T cell function, increased asthma severity, and lower lung function in children with asthma.
  • Exposure to air pollution resulted in epigenetic changes (modification of gene expression) that were sustained over time.

There has been quite a bit of research on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) over the last two decades as rates have been steadily increasing since 2002. ASD was previously thought to be mainly due to genetics, but newer research indicates that environmental factors play a key role. Studies have demonstrated parental environmental and occupational exposures are linked to ASD and developmental delay even while taking into account changes in the diagnostic criteria, earlier age of diagnosis, and inclusion of milder cases.

UC Berkeley (CERCH) Children’s Center is the center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) study. CHAMACOS is the longest running longitudinal birth cohort study of pesticides and other environmental exposures among children in a farmworker community. This study demonstrated that "newborns have very low levels of the critical enzyme PON1, which can detoxify OP pesticides (Organophosphates). Levels of PON1 were found to remain low through age 7, indicating that childhood is a time of increased vulnerability to pesticide exposure."

Studies also looked at the relationship between traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) and ASD which confirmed that exposures during late pregnancy and early life may negatively affect a child’s health. These studies also confirmed that children had a higher risk for developing ASD if their parents were exposed to lacquer, varnish, and xylene at their jobs!!

Key Findings:

    • Children were at greater risk for ASD and developmental delay if their mothers were residing near pyrethroids insecticide applications just before conception or during the third trimester.
    • Children were 60 percent more likely to develop ASD if their mothers resided near agricultural fields where organophosphate (OP) pesticides were applied during their pregnancy. The association was strongest for third trimester exposures and second-trimester chlorpyrifos applications.
    • For mothers who lived near a freeway during pregnancy, the risk of having a child with ASD doubled.
    • Children who were exposed to higher levels of traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) in utero and in the first year of life were more likely to develop ASD.

    Consumer Products

    Researchers studied the health effects of BPA (Bisphenol A) and its ability to alter the reproductive system, even multiple generations after exposure. Outcome data showed children exposed to high levels of BPA prenatally or in early life had a higher fat mass index, percent body fat, and waist circumference.

    PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers), a group of chemicals used as flame retardants in textiles, furniture foam, carpet padding, building materials, upholstery in cars and airplanes, and plastic housings for electronics, were found to affect the body’s natural hormones and disrupt mental and physical development (endocrine disruption).

    Young children can be exposed to PBDE particles from dust that gets on their hands and then into their mouths. Both prenatal and childhood PBDE exposures were associated with poorer attention, fine motor coordination, and cognitive capabilities in school-age children.

    Studies also found that exposure to Phthalates in indoor dust contributes to developmental delays and other impairments including the ability to follow directions, writing ability, and language skills. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products, such as toys, vinyl flooring and wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood bags and tubing, and personal care products, such as nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes and other fragrance preparations.

    As part of the UC Berkeley (CERCH) Children’s Center, the Health and Environmental Research in Make-up of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) study examined how girls are exposed to hormone disrupters, like phthalates in personal care products.  Results demonstrated that toxic chemicals in personal care products used by teenage girls are absorbed into their bodies. The study also confirmed these chemical levels can be reduced when users switch to products that contain fewer toxic ingredients.

    “Personally, since the [HERMOSA] study, I’ve tried to use more natural products. It’s hard, especially as a college student who doesn’t have a lot of money… I’ve decided to splurge more on products with fewer chemicals because of the effect in the future.” – Maritza Cardenas, teen researcher and HERMOSA study co-author.

    Key Findings: 

    • Prenatal exposure to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can have negative effects on cognition and behavior in childhood. PAHs are widespread in urban areas largely as a result of fossil fuel combustion, specifically diesel fuel exhaust
    • Increased likelihood to exhibit signs of cognitive developmental delay at 3 years old.
    • Lower full-scale and verbal IQ test scores at 5 years old.
    • Increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and attention problems at 6 to 7 years old.
    • Slower information processing speed, increased aggression, and other behavioral self-control problems, and increased ADHD symptoms at age 7 to 9 years old.
    • Children exposed to higher levels of chlorpyrifos (insecticide) had significantly lower scores on mental development tests and increased attention problems and symptoms of ADHD at 3 years old compared to children exposed at lowere levels.
    • Children prenatally exposed to higher levels of phthalates began puberty either earlier or later, depending on sex, compared to those prenatally exposed to lower levels of phthalates.

    SLN's Take Home Message:

    If we think about all the chemicals used in our environment over the last 40 years it is no wonder disease burden continues to rise. This impact report highlights the fact that children are more vulnerable to the negative effects of environmental exposures which can have lifelong effects on their health. 

    Although it’s impossible to avoid all environmental exposures, it is entirely possible to reduce your toxic load by changing what you bring into your home. Being intentional about the products you buy is a great start.

    There is no better time than now to commit to reducing toxic body burden. Here at Start Living Natural we make it easy to shop for products that support a non-toxic home

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