By Nneka Leiba
If the Environmental Working Group were to assign a book for parents and expectant parents, it would be Children and Environmental Toxins: What Everyone Needs to Know®.
The new book, written by Dr. Philip Landrigan and his wife Mary Landrigan, is a perfect guide to understanding how chemicals in our environment can affect children's health and, importantly, what you can do to limit threats.
As industrial chemical manufacturing expanded over the last 50 years, the rate of noncommunicable diseases in children—like asthma, birth defects and certain cancers—increased, the Landrigans explain. Mounting evidence links many of these health problems to chemical exposures.
Here are some sobering statistics from the book:
- Childhood asthma has nearly tripled in frequency since the early 1970s.
- Learning disabilities affect 1 in 6 children. One of every 68 children born in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
- Since the 1970s, childhood birth defects have doubled in frequency and obesity among our youth has more than tripled.
- Both leukemia and brain cancer in children have increased by nearly 40 percent since the early 1970s.
"Research in children's environmental health and epidemiology shows us that infants and children are exquisitely vulnerable to toxic chemicals," the authors note. "The extent to which toxic chemicals in the environment are contributing to rising rates of autism, childhood cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and decreased fertility is only beginning to be discerned."
The Landrigans also draw on their decades of experience working on children's health and public health issues to answer many of the questions that parents face on a daily basis. These include:
- What is the most effective way to prevent children's exposure to toxic chemicals at home?
- How do I know if my home has lead in it, and what do I do if it's present?
- What are the most common endocrine disruptors and where are they found? Are all baby bottles free of endocrine disruptors?
- Are there certain components of furniture and carpet that may be toxic?
- Is the air in my home polluted?
- Can stuffed animals trigger allergies or even asthma attacks?
- What are food additives and do they have health consequences?
Each chapter offers parents much-needed tips on what they can do to reduce their children's exposures to environmental toxicants, including lead, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, allergens and flame retardants—at home, school and daycare.
The advice in the book is based on the latest science and could not come from two more qualified people.
Dr. Landrigan has taken extraordinary steps to raise awareness about environmental toxicants and how they impact children's health and development. His early research in the 1970s helped end the use of lead in paint and gasoline. He was also the principal author of the pivotal 1993 National Academy of Sciences study, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. The study led Congress to pass the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which set safety standards for pesticides on foods.
Mary Landrigan is a noted public health educator who spent 25 years at the Westchester County Department of Public Health in New York.