Environmental Health in Early Childhood: Prevent and Reduce Exposure Today to Known Harmful Chemicals in the Built, Consumer, and Natural Environments

This blog is the third in our five-part series on philanthropic strategies for preventing and reducing childhood exposure to harmful chemicals. To learn more, see our corresponding funder brief, Ensure a Healthy Start.

Forsythia-lead-paintAll children should have access to safe places to live, play, and learn, as well as access to healthful and safe food to eat. However, harmful chemicals, such as those found in lead paint, pre-1980 institutional lighting systems, and seafood, can have adverse and lifelong health consequences.  For funders wanting to take action today, there are philanthropic opportunities to specifically prevent and reduce exposure to lead, methylmercury, and PCBs in children. Today’s blog focuses on two strategies that funders can take to help protect children’s health and promote safer consumer habits.

  1. Prevent and reduce harmful chemical exposure in older buildings

Older buildings, both residential and institutional such as schools, can contain all manner of harmful chemicals residual from a time when no one knew the danger they could pose to health and development. For instance, many homes built before 1978 contain some lead paint, which can lead to a range of neurological diseases and disorders such as ADHD, learning disabilities, and hearing and vision impairment. For that reason, California established legislation that requires multi-unit properties built before 1978 to be proactively inspected every two years. Unfortunately, some residents don’t allow inspectors entry due to mistrust and lack of information, a phenomenon that not only prolongs the inspection process but also leaves many children at risk. The Healthy Homes Collaborative, an association of community based organizations (CBOs) in Los Angeles, uses home visitation strategies (e.g. pre-visits and information sessions) before city-required lead inspections. Through this initiative the likelihood of city officials being allowed entry for lead inspections has increased from 20% to 80%. Such activities not only educate families and increase the likelihood of a successful home assessment, but CBOs can also help property owners and tenants navigate government-subsidized programs should a property fail tests and there is a lack of financial resources to address needed repairs.

Additional resources:

To learn more about lead exposure, including ways to protect children, healthy practices during pregnancy, and practices to safeguard homes, see leadfreekids.org. For more of our guidance on preventing and reducing exposure to other harmful chemicals in the built environment, see our funder brief.

  1. Promote awareness of safer seafood consumption

Safe and nutritious seafood can be part of a well-balanced and healthy diet for pregnant women and children alike. However, certain types of seafood (e.g. farmed salmon, swordfish, shark, shellfish, etc.) are susceptible to being contaminated with methylmercury and PCBs. It’s important that pregnant mothers and those responsible for feeding children understand which seafood poses a risk. Healthy Child, Healthy World works to empower parents with credible advice for healthier homes, including providing a checklist on how to find and prepare safe seafood. They also provide Healthy Parenting Kits to families through local organizations in major cities to educate families about harmful toxins, alternative products to use, and healthy foods to eat.

See Stony Brook University’s Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Outreach for more educational resources to help families understand where they can find safe seafood.

Next up in this series: a Q&A blog with Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and epidemiologist and one of the world’s leading advocates of children’s health.