this story in the NYT is the result of selective leakage by the
Bush Administration of a report that was obtained in full by the
Wall Street Journal. The Administration was attempting to do damage
control in anticipation of the WSJ coverage. The
WSJ story gives a fuller picture of the report and the concerns
it raises about increasing mercury levels.
February 20, 2003
Child Health Is Seen As Environment Ills Decline
By Jennifer 8. Lee
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 — A new government report concludes that
children's health has improved in areas where the government has
taken aim at environmental hazards, White House and Environmental
Protection Agency officials said today.
the other hand, the report raises new questions about the need for
new areas of study, such as the link between mercury and childhood
development and the rising rates of childhood asthma even as air
quality has improved over the last 15 years.
report, the federal government's second comprehensive assessment
on children's health that weighs environmental and biological factors,
does not have any policy, regulation or financing recommendations,
the officials said. But the juxtaposition of the data sets the stage
for more environmental studies focused on children, whose medical
needs are different from adults'.
study also sets a benchmark for the government to deal with the
hazards of mercury, which scientists have linked to developmental
I.Q. deficits and motor skill dysfunction, and which is suspected
to play a role in attention deficit disorder and autism. Mercury
has been the controversial subject within the environmental regulation
arena because power plants release it while burning coal.
report draws on recently released data on toxins from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, which measured the level of
mercury in women of child-bearing age. Officials said the report
brought together data about the increasing amount of mercury in
food and water, but they cautioned that it was too early to draw
causal links between the types of diseases that are occurring.
number of those fish advisories have been up," said Joe Martyak,
a spokesman for the E.P.A., "but it doesn't tell you how many
people are getting sick from it."
of the most important questions raised in the report is about the
increasing incidence of asthma, the leading cause of school absenteeism
linked to chronic disease. An estimated 3.8 million children have
had an asthma attack in the past 12 months, and the direct and indirect
costs of asthma are an estimated $14 billion a year.
rates for asthma have gone up even as outdoor air quality has improved,
leading scientists to examine indoor air quality and the effects
said the report, which is at the printer and is scheduled to be
released soon, also pointed to advances in children's health, many
of which have come from targeted government policies. For example,
officials reported a decline in children's exposure to second-hand
smoke, which is known to cause upper respiratory disorders, asthma
and middle ear infections in children.
report also says that the level of blood lead poisoning in children
has dropped significantly in the last 30 years. The Lead Contamination
Control Act of 1988 set program efforts to eliminate childhood lead
poisoning in the United States. An estimated 300,000 to 400,000
children ages 1 to 5 have alarming levels of lead in their blood,
compared with 890,000 in the last study by the disease centers,
these cases are the most difficult to eliminate as they occur disproportionately
among poor and minority children.
National Childhood Cancer Foundation reports that each year cancer
is diagnosed in 12,500 children and that about 2,300 children and
teenagers die from cancer.