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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.

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  • Childhood Cancer and the Environment
    Posted by Kathy Attar

    Is childhood leukemia another canary in the coal mine for environmental health threats and disease?

    Between 1975 and 2011, the U.S. has seen a 55% increase in the number of children diagnosed annually with childhood leukemia. Ninety percent of these children will be cured. However the emotional and financial costs of this stark increase in cancer rates are significant and the threat of subsequent adult development of cancers is high.

    Research has shown that environmental hazards play a role in the development of childhood leukemia, including ionizing radiation, solvents, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and tobacco smoke. For a variety of reasons children are more vulnerable to these toxics than are adults. Children have higher levels of skin and dietary exposure, higher body-surface-to-weight ratio, and higher food and water intake in proportion to body size. Pesticide exposure is high among farmworker children who can be exposed in utero, or through breast milk, from pesticide drift, by contact with family members’ contaminated work clothing, or via working in the field themselves. House dust is another significant route of toxic exposure: recent research has shown an increase in acute lymphoblastic leukemia among those children exposed to higher levels of PCBs in house dust.

    Healthcare providers can play a critical role in reducing exposures to children and pregnant women through anticipatory, preventative guidance during the preconception, prenatal and postnatal periods.

    Learn more about the ways children are exposed to harmful environmental chemicals which may cause cancer -- and the need to focus our policies, healthcare and research on prevention -- in the latest Environmental Health Policy Institute.


    PCBs: Cancer Linkage Found Decades after a Ban
    Anneclaire J. De Roos, MPH, PhD

    Protecting Farmworker Children from Pesticide Exposure
    Joan Flocks, JD, MA

    Childhood Leukemia: An Ounce of Prevention
    Mark Miller MD, MPH; Catherine Metayer, MD, PhD; and Gary Dahl, MD

    Parental Pesticide Exposure Linked to Childhood Cancer
    Jennifer Runkle, PhD, MSPH

    The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

    7 comment(s)