NEWS RELEASE, 08/10/98
Vice President Gore announces new children's environmental
health center to be headed by UC Berkeley professor
By Public Affairs Staff
BERKELEY -- A University of California, Berkeley, professor will direct a new Center of Excellence in Children's Environmental Health Research, Vice President Al Gore announced today (Monday, Aug. 10) at the White House. The center will be one of eight new federal research centers funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Each of the centers will study how the health of children is affected by environmental exposures. At UC Berkeley, Brenda Eskenazi, a professor at the School of Public Health, and her collaborators have been selected to specifically focus on pesticide exposure in the children of California farmworkers. The School of Public Health has received a $1.18 million award to do this work, according to a White House press release issued today.
Eskenazi, Professor of Maternal & Child Health and Epidemiology, has studied for 20 years the developmental and reproductive effects of chemical exposures, such as dioxins and pesticides, caffeine and tobacco smoke.
"Recent preliminary studies show young children can be exposed to pesticides from residues in their food, as well as from their normal exploration of their environment," said Eskenazi. Farmworker children, she added, may be exposed to even higher levels as a result of pesticide drift, tainted breast milk, playing in the fields or tracking pesticides into their homes.
The White House press release said the goal of the centers is to "address two of the most important areas of children's environmental health - the causes of asthma and the effects of pesticide exposure."
At five of the centers researchers will look at the link between the rise in asthma rates and secondhand smoke, smog and other pollutants. The three other centers will investigate children's vulnerabilities to pesticides, which can affect the endocrine system, reduce intellectual development and damage the central nervous system.
At the UC Berkeley center, the School of Public Health will collaborate with Children's Hospital of Oakland; the California Department of Health Services; the California Environmental Protection Agency; Stanford University; the Alameda and Monterey health departments, La Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas and La Natividad Medical Center, both in Salinas, Calif.; Centers for Disease Control; and the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
Pesticide exposure is the focus of the center because "children are small, and we have no idea how these chemicals are metabolized in small bodies," Eskenazi said. "We know nothing about whether there are health effects from chronic, low-level pesticide exposure in children."
In recent years, researchers have begun to question whether setting standards for environmental exposures in children based on what is known about adults - a common practice - is appropriate, triggering the call for more studies.
California uses more pesticides than any other state - 40 percent of the nationwide total, so there is a particular concern about exposure in this state, said Eskenazi.
"California is also unique because it is the only state where pesticide use is tracked," she said.
Eskenazi said preventing illness in children is of great concern to farm communities and growers, who will reap the benefits of the studies. What is learned also will suggest risk factors for children not living in agricultural settings.
During the next five years, the UC Berkeley researchers will study development and growth in children under the age of three, as well as illnesses such as respiratory ailments.
Thanks to the creation of the center, "our studies can capture two very vulnerable periods for children," said Eskenazi. "One is prenatal, during the pregnancy of the mother. The other is when children are very close to the ground and have a lot of hand-to-mouth behavior."
Exposure assessment and investigations of health effects will be followed by the development of mitigation strategies.
"By creating a center, it allows us to have a more complete look at complicated problems," said Eskenazi. "We can bring together diverse expertise that would not be brought together without a center.
We can have engineers sitting in the same room with psychologists and doctors. Unless you get people from diverse backgrounds speaking to each other, you can't get creative solutions to studying the effects of environmental exposures on child health."
In addition to the federal research center at UC Berkeley, the other seven centers will be at the University of Southern California's School of Medicine; the University of Iowa's College of Medicine; the University of Michigan's School of Public Health; Johns Hopkins University's Children's Center; the University of Washington's Department of Environmental Health; Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York; and Columbia University's School of Public Health, also in New York.
President Bill Clinton issued the Executive Order on the Protection
of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks on April 21,
1997, making children's environmental health a federal priority, and it
included steps to improve research. In response, the EPA and the HHS allocated
$10.6 million for the establishment of the eight centers, which were selected
through an extensive peer review process by health experts in and out of
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