EPA Touts Success in Reducing Children’s Chemical Exposures

Oct. 16, 2019, 7:51 PM

Children’s exposure to environmental hazards has been reduced dramatically in recent years, the EPA said Oct. 16.

In announcing the reduction, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he was frustrated that the media “don’t tell this side of the story.”

From 1976 to 2016, the median concentration of lead in the blood of children between ages 1 and 5 fell by 95%, according to a new Environmental Protection Agency report. Other improvements were found in air pollutants, chemicals in food, and mercury.

“If you had similar reductions in opioid addiction or gang violence, it would lead the nightly news,” Wheeler said at the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services annual meeting Oct. 16.

“The public deserves to know how far we’ve come as a nation—and how we got there,” he said. “At the same time, we know that we have more work to do.”

What’s Dropping

The report notes that leaded gasoline and lead-based paint were eliminated or restricted in the U.S. beginning in the 1970s.

“However, children continue to be exposed to lead due to the widespread distribution of lead in the environment, including lead-contaminated house dust resulting from deteriorated or disrupted lead-based paint” and in drinking water in some places, as shown in recent cases in Flint, Mich., and Newark, N.J., the report said.

Similarly, the levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as PFAS, fell in the blood of women of child-bearing age.

For example, PFOS levels fell 88% from 24 nanograms per milliliter in 1999 to 2000 to 3 nanograms per milliliter in 2015 to 2016. PFOA levels dropped by 80% in the same period.

Studies have found associations between prenatal exposure to PFOS or PFOA to developmental health effects, including reduced birth weight, the report said.

The report further concluded that the number of children served by community drinking water systems that failed at least some health standards dropped from 18% 1993 to 6% in 2017.

Partial Picture?

Barbara Morrissey, chairwoman of EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, told Bloomberg Environment the reductions are “worth celebrating but only part of the picture.”

To get a fuller understanding of exposure trends, the EPA’s indicators must be updated with exposure measurements for new chemicals that replaced older ones that were phased out, said Morrissey, a toxicologist with the Washington state Department of Health.

The reductions in exposure to lead, organophosphate pesticides, certain flame retardants, and four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) follow phaseouts of major consumer and commercial uses of these compounds years ago, Morrissey said.

Moreover, the tracking of air and drinking water contaminants is limited by the fact that, over the last 20 years, “it has been very hard to add a chemical to either air or water regulations,” Morrissey said. “These trends don’t reflect emerging chemicals.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com

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