MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: The toxic burden borne by kids
Childrenâ€™s body burdenIn July 2005, Environmental Working Group published the research study Body Burden: Pollution in Newborns: http://www.ewg.org/ reports/bodyburden2/execsumm.php. The study detected 287 industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood from ten newborn children, randomly selected by the Red Cross from U.S. hospitals. Based upon the results of the study, which was endorsed by ten scientists and medical experts, EWG called for major reforms to U.S. laws that aim to protect â€œthe youngest and most vulnerable members of our societyâ€ from chemical exposures.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, the ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, and the only microbiologist in Congress, issued a press release on July 14, calling the pollution in newborn study â€œshockingâ€ and a â€œwake-up call for our country.â€ Slaughter announced new legislation she authored called the â€œEnvironmental Health Research Act of 2005â€ that would provide â€œsafeguards against prenatal pollution.â€
Over in the Senate, the pollution in newborn study also served as an example for Senators Lautenberg, Waxman, Jeffords, Boxer, Kerry, Corzine, Clinton and Kennedy to introduce the â€œChild, Worker and Consumer Safe Chemicals Act of 2005â€ (aka â€œKid Safe Chemicals Actâ€). The Kid Safe Chemicals Act would result in a major overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act and help make U.S. laws compatible with legislation being taken on chemicals in the European Union â€” a direction that the Bush administration opposes.
War-of-wordsThe pollution in newborn study has led to major saber rattling, much of it being played out in the media. On July 25th The Wall Street Journal ran the first in a series of articles entitled â€œToxic Tracesâ€ on its front page. The WSJ article suggests that our body burden of chemicals is related to an increase of various diseases.
Weighing in on the side of caution, Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), said the study â€œ...will generate unnecessary anxiety and will lend support to those who literally wish to dismantle our technological societyâ€ (see http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.587/news_detail.asp).
Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (and a father of six children) stated that EWGâ€™s announcement of the study â€œis unbefitting the critical issue of childrenâ€™s health (and)â€¦ may well frighten the parents of newborns.â€
Countering these arguments, Senator Lautenberg (in his statement on the Kid Safe Chemicals Act) commented, â€œI have ten grandchildren ... and I believe we have a sacred duty to protect the health of infants and children. I agree with Daniel Maguire, a professor of religious ethic at Marquette University who stated, â€˜As a principle of ethics, whatever is good for kids is good; whatever is bad for kids is ungodlyâ€™.â€
Larger studies comingEWGâ€™s pollution in newborn study is but the tip of the iceberg regarding measurements of a childâ€™s body burden of chemicals. The EWG study involved just ten newborns. The National Childrenâ€™s Study (NCS) (http://nationalchildrensstudy.gov/), authorized by the Childrenâ€™s Health Act of 2000, will â€œ...examine the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the United States, following them from before birth...â€ The first participants should be enrolled in early 2007. NCS plans call for measuring chemicals that may be found in umbilical cord blood and other newborn body tissues.
Kids as pawns?According to Peter Sandman (http://www.psandman.com/gst2001.htm), a leading risk communication expert, â€œChildren are an especially vulnerable population in two senses: They are often at greater hazard, and their vulnerability virtually always provokes greater outrage. Largely because of the second (factor), ignoring the first is seen as a very serious ethical infraction. Further, â€œThe uniqueness of childrenâ€™s risk inevitably makes them frequent pawns in risk controversies.â€ Sandman says the most defensible way to handle such (risk communication) problems â€œis to tell all: the risk to kids and other vulnerable populations, the risk to those who are not especially vulnerable, and the overall risk when the groups are combined.â€
Risk communicationAs the issue of childrenâ€™s body burden of chemicals grows, you must be especially careful of how you communicate this risk. First, welcome rigorous scientific scrutiny on the topic. The American Chemistry Council (ACC), for example, endorses and supports the NCS.
Next, be prepared for the possible question, â€œWhich chemicals used by your company (e.g. employer/client) have been detected in the blood of American babies?â€ In July 2005, the EWG asked a similar question to the ACC and all the major chemical companies. The likelihood of this question being asked may be high if you help protect employees that may be starting a family or if discharges from your work site into the community are composed of reproductive/developmental toxicants.
To help you answer this question, review the information in the August 2005 document, Biomonitoring: Measuring Levels of Chemicals in People â€“ and What the Results Mean (http://www.acsh.org/docLib/ 20050721_biomonitoring.pdf). The document was written by Dennis Paustenbach, PhD, and David Galbraith, MD. Paustenbachâ€™s credentials include the CIH and CSP. In March 2003, Paustenbach also became the editor of the Journal of Childrenâ€™s Health (http://www.journalofchildrenshealth.org/).
Also, you might want to review the Centers for Disease Controlâ€™s assessment of the exposure of the U.S. population to environmental chemicals, released on July 21st of this year.
Rapidly evolving technologies and concepts are creating significant challenges for regulators, EHS pros and the public in protecting children (including prenatal) from environmental (including workplace) exposures. There will be much uncertainty.
Recognize that emotional levels in risk communication follow the 4C stages: Curiosity, Concern, Controversy, and Conflict. EHS pros have the greatest control at a personâ€™s curiosity stage. If someone is simply curious about a topic and you help to effectively resolve their curiosity, then the problem may go no further. A personâ€™s concern is harder to address and controversy is even more troublesome. EHS pros will not be able to resolve conflict on their own, as outside parties (such as lawyers) usually come into play and time and costs to solve the problem rapidly escalate.
If you find yourself heading to the controversy stage of risk communication, promptly seek upper management and legal guidance.