Emory Report

January 10, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 16

New center works to protect children

Although the health of American children has vastly improved over the past century due largely to vaccinations and better nutrition, toxic environmental hazards threaten to rival infectious diseases as a scourge of children's health in the new millenium.

A new Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) recently formed at Emory creates a network of physicians and healthcare facilities dedicated to helping protect children from the ill effects of the environment. The new PEHSU at Emory is one of five new centers nationwide funded by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics. The center at Emory will serve children, families, health care providers and public agencies throughout the Southeast. Other PEHSUs are based in Seattle, Chicago, New York and Boston.

The Emory Center links the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the School of Public Health, the Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine, the Georgia Poison Center, the Marcus Institute (an affiliate of Kennedy Krieger Institute at Emory), and a variety of Emory-affiliated clinical facilities including Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Hughes Spalding Children's Hospital.

This new network will develop a range of educational materials, conduct teaching sessions throughout the region, provide information and consultation to agencies and health care providers, refer patients needing clinical evaluations, establish a network of committee clinicians and provide clinical services. Concerned parents and health-care providers will soon be able to access the center via a toll-free number staffed by residents specializing in pediatrics or environmental health.

Children are uniquely susceptible to environmental hazards, according to Howard Frumkin, chair of environmental and occupational health and principal investigator for the new PEHSU.

"Children breathe more air and drink more water per pound of body weight than adults, and children play close to the ground­where toxic materials can be absorbed," he said. "Because of immature metabolic pathways, children may be relatively less able to detoxify environmental substances, and their developing organs may be especially susceptible to toxic insults. And, because they will live longer than adults, children have a greater opportunity to develop chronic diseases following hazardous exposures."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence of asthma, childhood cancer, congenital anomalies, neurodevelopmental disorders and endocrine and sexual disorders is increasing, with environmental exposures to modern chemical compounds likely playing an important role. According to the EPA, large portions of the country suffer from excessive levels of air pollutants, and housing and schools throughout the country are exposed to biological contaminants.

"We at Emory are delighted to reach out to the Southeastern states with this important service," said Frumkin. "If you are a parent whose child plays outside during the high ozone days in Atlanta, or if you live near a hazardous waste site, or if you are a parent of a child with a birth defect, and you wonder if workplace exposure could have contributed, you can get information and referral from our center."

The Emory PEHSU team includes Frumkin; Robert Geller, Emory pediatrician and medical director of the Georgia Poison Center; Leslie Rubin, director of developmental pediatrics at Emory and of academic and medical programs for the Marcus Institute; and Gerald Teague, director of pediatric respiratory medicine. Janice Nodvin, director of special projects at Marcus Institute, will serve as project administrator.

For more information, contact Nodvin at 404-727-9483.

--Holly Korschun

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