Whitman Praises Goals of New Children's Environmental Health Center

Nov. 19, 2001
A new children's environmental health research center examines potential links between environmental factors and health and behavioral problems.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman Friday highlighted one of four new children's environmental health research centers that examine potential links between environmental factors and health and behavioral problems.

The new center is funded by the EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and is located at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute in Piscataway, N.J. The center will provide researchers the opportunity to study environmental factors that may be related to autism. The other three centers are located in Ohio, California and Illinois.

"The creation of this new center at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute certainly represents the shared commitment to protect and care for our children," said Whitman. She said that this center, along with eleven others around the country, will continue to perform and apply research that can help shed light on the links between the environment and the health of children in the country.

"Children have unique vulnerabilities, so we must use greater caution in protecting them from environmental threats to their health," continued Whitman. "The work that will be done here will be critical to providing our children, and grandchildren, with a safe and healthy environment in which to grow and mature."

Under George Lambert as principal investigator, this Center for Childhood Neurotoxicology and Assessment at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute will examine the possible influence of mercury, lead and valproic acid, a drug commonly used to control seizures, on autism, learning disabilities and regression - a situation in which children who appear to be developing normally start losing their language and social skills and lapse into autism.

Studies will look at critical windows for brain development in the forebrain and hindbrain and will attempt to link exposures or disturbances at these times to subsequent behavior. Researchers will also look at children's variable genetic susceptibility to environmental poisons. MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) will be used to see if children with higher exposures to environmental poisons have different patterns of brain growth and development.

The research center is one of four approved in October. The new centers will receive $5 million, or about $1 million per year for five years. EPA and NIEHS, part of the federal National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, already fund eight children's environmental health research centers.

Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati will work with community participants to assess the impact of reducing pollutants in the home and neighborhood on children's hearing, behavior and test scores. A center at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana will assess the impact of exposure to mercury and PCBs among two groups of Asian-Americans in Wisconsin, whose diets are heavy in fish from the Great Lakes. At the University of California at Davis, researchers will also study environmental factors that may be related to autism.

The four new centers join eight already established (in 1998) at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Washington, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Md., Columbia University, in New York City, and the Mount Sinai Medical Center, also in New York City, in partnership with community groups in East Harlem.

edited by Sandy Smith

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