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Researcher: Pollution Impacts Young Minorities Most

More than one in four deaths of children under 5 years of age can be linked to unhealthy environments. (nih.gov)
More than one in four deaths of children under 5 years of age can be linked to unhealthy environments. (nih.gov)
March 26, 2018

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – How the environment impacts the health of Americans has long been a heated topic of discussion, and an expert on the subject says the federal government isn't doing enough research on pollution or taking enough action to prevent children from being exposed to it.

Lawrence Schell is director of the Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities at the University of Albany. He recently lectured at Indiana State University about how pollution impacts the growth and brain development of children.

He says scientists continue to find connections between toxins in the environment and adverse health impacts, but not enough is being done about it.

"Instead of waiting until there are dead bodies on the street, when there's evidence of a threat from an environmental factor, we should prevent that factor from affecting children and even adults, even before every single piece of confirmatory evidence is assembled," says Schell.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1-in-4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments, including indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation and inadequate hygiene.

Schell says the government has stepped up to protect children from lead-based paint, but adds that pollution doesn't impact all areas of society equally and says minority communities, especially American Indians, are impacted most.

"Action was taken when it was shown that lead levels were affecting middle-class kids in a suburb of Boston, and when we see kids who are affected who are from disadvantaged parts of the community or minority parts of the community or both, sometimes political action isn't quite as strong," he says.

Each year in the United States, 310,000 one to five-year-olds are found to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood. Schell says the U.S. has made a lot of progress, but there's much more work to be done.

"In order to save children, we're going to have to build in a margin of safety, and right now that seems to be a difficult thing for our government to realize," says Schell.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN