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Lay of the Land

Protecting Alaska's Tongass | 10 Reasons to Protect our National Forests | W Watch | Clean Air Act? | Jack Morrow Hills | Using Up the Planet | Bold Strokes | Children Pay Price for Pollution | Fuel Economy | Updates

Children Pay Pollution’s Price

By Marilyn Berlin Snell

Children’s developing immune and endocrine systems are especially susceptible to pollutants in our air, food, water, soil, and homes. That much scientists have known for a while. But now they know the bottom line. In the first study to assess the costs of pediatric disease caused by toxics in the environment, researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York have found that Americans pay more than $54 billion annually for direct medical expenses as well as for special schooling and long-term care. That’s more than we spend each year on military weapons research or veterans benefits.

The study examined four categories of illness. Lead poisoning is by far the worst culprit, costing $43.4 billion. Neurobehavioral disorders related to environmental toxics run $9.2 billion, asthma problems $2 billion (the incidence of childhood asthma has more than doubled since 1960), and childhood cancers $300 million. Because only four areas were studied–and the cost of pain and suffering not quantified–researchers acknowledge that the estimate is probably low.

The Mount Sinai study cites inadequate testing as part of the problem: Children are especially at risk of exposure to chemicals like pesticides, but only 43 percent of these compounds have been tested for toxicity to humans and only 7 percent have been studied for effects on development.

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