Education in Environmental Health a Needed Tool In Ongoing Efforts to Grow Healthy Children in U.S.

To the Editor:

Every day, the United States alone uses or imports about 42 million pounds of synthetic chemicals. There are more than 84,000 compounds approved for commercial use in the U.S., most of which have never been tested for toxicity. A 2011 Policy Statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges that the large quantities of chemicals that enter commerce could be harmful to children’s health and development. The contribution of many of these chemicals to human illnesses, such as cancer and asthma, as well as in breast cancer, obesity, and hormone disruption, is now being studied in the scientific community with great interest and concern. Many studies now show increasing levels of common household chemicals in blood samples (bio-monitoring) collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as in breast milk and other bodily fluids. According to umbilical cord blood samples tested, nearly all babies in the U.S. are born with synthetic chemicals already in their blood streams.

Endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) are an intensely studied area in the scientific community. Some have been strongly linked to effects on hormone signaling and adverse developmental outcomes in children. Many of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals surround us every day in the air we breathe, food we eat, and cosmetics we apply to our skin. Pre-teen and teenagers are among the largest groups of consumers of cosmetics and personal care products in the U.S. This raises concern due to rapid development during puberty and risk for future health issues. Cell phone and radiation exposure is also an area of growing concern for young people. Education in the area of environmental health is a needed tool in the ongoing efforts to grow healthy children in the U.S.

Over the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of speaking with hundreds of students at Princeton High School about the potential health effects of various environmental exposures, and sharing with them vetted, practical, and highly relevant information and resources to reduce environmental exposures. These students were bright, inquisitive, and self-aware, and I have no doubt that they will make us all very proud as they mature into healthy young adults.

I would like to thank Ed Cohen EdD (no relation!), Supervisor of Science preK-12 for Princeton Public Schools, for his ongoing support of this program, and Whole Earth Center for their generous financial backing. Community support is essential for making positive changes, and I am grateful to the Princeton community for embracing this important work. Knowledge is power!

Aly Cohen, MD, FACR, FABoIM