The attack on children’s health

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump Administration has undermined children’s health again– this time by unceremoniously defunding the Children’s Environmental Health Research Centers program. These centers, based at academic institutions around the country, including the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) are charged with examining how pollution and chemicals in our air, water, food, and every day products affect the health of pregnant women and children.

Children’s Centers’ studies follow children over time, from before they were born through adolescence. The interruption in funding jeopardizes this important work.

This research has provided scientific evidence for limits or bans on dangerous chemicals and community actions to protect children. The Centers’ work has helped to demonstrate that toxic chemicals can pass from the pregnant woman to her developing fetus, affecting the child’s health and development such as asthma, ADHD, obesity, thyroid disorders, and cancer.

A 2017 government report co-authored by EPA credited the Centers’ work with informing numerous health-protective policies, including:

  • More than 75 Center publications provided EPA with scientific foundation for its regulation of air pollutants including ozone, particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide.
  • Research from the Dartmouth College Children’s Center helped inform FDA’s first regulatory action on arsenic in infant rice products in 2016.
  • Columbia Center investigators and community partner WE ACT for Environmental Justice provided education and testimony to support the phasing out of dirty heating oils in New York City residential buildings.
  • Eleven Children’s Center studies were cited by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and American Society of Reproductive Medicine as evidence that environmental chemicals can adversely impact reproduction.

The loss of this kind of research leaves policymakers in the dark about the existence of these problems, and how to address them—which can give industry a green light to operate at the expense of public health, particularly of children.

Research can’t do it alone, however. Even when the science is clear, the Trump Administration sides with industry. For example, research led by the Berkeley and Columbia Centers found that chlorpyrifos, an agricultural pesticide, interferes with children’s brain development. The findings led to a recommendation by EPA in 2015 to ban the chemical. But the Trump Administration delayed the ban. In other words, four years after EPA recommended that the use of chlorpyrifos be halted, this administration is still allowing spraying of the brain-damaging chemical on the crops that children eat.

Crippling children’s environmental health research appears to be part of a larger strategy by the current administration to dismantle the framework of protections that are largely responsible for dramatic improvements in air and water that have benefitted children’s health. Under Andrew Wheeler’s leadership, EPA has rolled back air and water protections, rewritten rules to weaken EPA’s ability to limit toxic chemicals, and ignored health risks to children in eight of the first ten chemicals the agency is required to regulate under the Toxic Substances Control Act (check out our fact sheets below for more about this).

In essence, the Trump Administration is broadly altering rules so it can ignore the science we have now and undermine future evidence.

Research that helps us to understand how chemicals are putting children in harm’s way informs policies that protect all of us. There are many reasons why children are more susceptible to the damaging effects of toxic chemicals and pollutants than adults. Bad policies shouldn’t be one of them.


Two fact sheets about children’s health, developed by UCSF PRHE, are available for download and distribution:

5 reasons toxic chemicals are more damaging to children
Fact sheet 1

How Wheeler’s EPA puts kids’ health at risk
Fact sheet 2


fpp1_2742 F Perera 3_med_2Dr. Frederica Perera co-wrote this post with Dr. Woodruff. She is a Professor at Columbia University and Director and Founding Director of the Columbia Center on Children’s Environmental Health.