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Environmental Factor, March 2012

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NIEHS and EPA launch 2012 webinar series

By Eddy Ball

Webinar Banner: EPA/NIEHS Children's Center 2012 Webinar Series subhead line:  Protecting Children's Health for a Lifetime: Date: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. Est

With a focus on translation and disease prevention, a webinar Feb. 8 highlighted research on pesticide exposure in children by scientists in the Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention, funded jointly by NIEHS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The broadcast, which was the first in a Children’s Centers 2012 Webinar Series, featured Elaine Faustman, Ph.D., of the University of Washington, and Asa Bradman, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley. On the second Wednesday of each month, the series will offer presentations of findings on different aspects of children’s environmental health, the research behind them, and their relationship to outreach and translation efforts by the centers toward protecting children from environmental threats for a lifetime (see text box).

NIEHS program director Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., who directs the Children’s Centers program, said of the series, “This is a great way to build on our partnership with EPA and to broadly raise awareness of children’s environmental health issues and the important contributions to public health by the science supported with in the Children’s Environmental Health program.”  

Children are uniquely susceptible at home and in daycare

While both presenters focused on indoor environments, Faustman’s research studied the homes of Yakima Valley, Wash., farm workers who bring organophosphate (OP) pesticides home from the fields on their clothing, while Bradman investigated exposures to indoor pesticides and other chemicals in California daycare facilities.

In both environments, children are exposed to contaminated dust, which they are likely to ingest because of their hand-to-mouth and crawling behaviors. As Bradman observed, children spend most of their time indoors, they have higher exposures than adults, and their developing bodies metabolize chemicals less efficiently than do the bodies of adults.

As the presenters pointed out, understanding and determining what exposures are harmful, and how to intervene and reduce exposures is essential. In her 2008 intervention study, Faustman wrote, “The social implications of such neurologic impairments can be far reaching,” potentially reducing intelligence quotients and impacting special education programs.

Translating research into public health interventions

Intervention strategies by Faustman and Bradman were tailored to fit their different situations. Faustman’s group launched a community-wide intervention, via a community randomized study, to reduce pesticide exposure among farm workers and their children. The two-year, comprehensive plan included activities at the community, organizational, small group, and individual levels. Intervention components were based on the existing literature and recommendations of the community advisory board formed at the initiation of the study.

The researchers tested a cohort of 571 households. They tested for metabolites of OP in samples collected from 202 adults and 204 children, and in house and vehicle dust from 203 and 177 households, respectively. One finding from the analysis was the seasonality of metabolite levels, which peaked during the spring when plants are thinned and sprayed to increase yield.

Bradman’s intervention efforts arose from questionnaire information about chemicals and pesticide use in daycare facilities, which indicated that 69 percent of pest management was performed by pest control companies. Sample collection and analysis from 40 sites also sparked interest among daycare operators.

One especially effective intervention was outreach to educate pest control workers and center directors about the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a tiered approach that begins with household maintenance, such as cleaning and control of food and water sources. IPM reserves the use of pesticides for later stage control, rather than for prevention, and advocates use of closed pest control devices, instead of sprays that increase children’s exposures.

“These are environments that should have better interventions,” Bradman told webinar participants. Fortunately, he added, there is growing interest and awareness in California and nationwide.

Elaine Faustman, Ph.D.

During the question and answer portion of the webcast, Faustman addressed emerging issues in children’s environmental health. “If there’s one area out there that’s the giant in the room,” she responded, “it’s engineered nanomaterials — especially for children.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Asa Bradman, Ph.D.

Bradman underscored the importance of the childcare environment in health. He said 13 million children attend daycare nationwide. There are 50,000 licensed facilities in California alone. (Photo courtesy of Asa Bradman)

Sign up for the next Children’s Center webinars

March 14:

• Biomarkers to predict and monitor asthma therapy, by Stanley Szefler, M.D., of National Jewish Health

• Environmental triggers of asthma exacerbation, by Rachel Miller, M.D., of Columbia University

April 11:

• Developmental origins of male reproductive tract disorders, by Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D., of Brown University

The Feb. 8 webinar, like ones to follow, was recorded and will be archived online.

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