Toxic chemical illness in children costs US almost $80 billion

New research claims that disease in children due to environmental pollution is costing the United States $76.6 billion annually in health care costs and parents' sick days.

Scientists from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine looked at the impact of toxic chemicals and air pollutants in the environment on children’s health.

They analysed a range of conditions associated with exposure to toxic chemicals, including lead poisoning, childhood cancer, asthma autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.

The researchers said the annual cost of $76.6 billion in healthcare to deal with these health problems represents 3.5% of all US health care costs in 2008.

The breakdown includes: lead poisoning ($50.9 billion), autism ($7.9 billion), intellectual disability ($5.4 billion), exposure to mercury pollution ($5.1 billion), ADHD ($5 billion), asthma ($2.2 billion), and childhood cancer ($95 million).

The researchers are proposing new legislation to make the testing of new chemicals and also those already on the market mandatory

Mount Sinai School of Medicine associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Paediatrics, Leonardo Trasande, MD, said: “Our findings show that, despite previous efforts to curb their use, toxic chemicals have a major impact on health care costs and childhood morbidity.

“New policy mandates are necessary to reduce the burden of disease associated with environmental toxins. The prevalence of chronic childhood conditions and costs associated with them may continue to rise if this issue is not addressed.”

The findings are supported by research from School of Public Health at George Washington University which recommends a strategy to reduce the effects of toxic chemicals on health.

The strategy includes the testing of chemicals already widely in use and assessing new chemicals for toxicity. It supports strict regulation of chemicals once released onto the market and on-going epidemiologic monitoring of the health impacts.

Lynn R. Goldman, MD, dean of the School of Public Health at George Washington University said: “Implementing these proposals would have a significant impact in preventing childhood disease and reducing health costs.

“Scant legislation has been passed to reduce the risks associated with childhood exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment.

“Even though only six chemicals have been banned, we have seen dramatic benefits from that action alone. The removal of lead from gasoline and paint is an example of the importance of this type of regulation.”

Alison Brown

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