Protecting Children’s Health: Looking to the Future

By Thomas Burke, Ph.D, MPH

EPA's Thomas Burke, Ph.D.

EPA’s Thomas Burke, Ph.D., shares children’s environmental health research results.

Last week marked the closing of National Children’s Health month, and we took advantage of the occasion to join our partners from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to hear highlights and the latest research results from the network of Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers that both our organizations have supported over the past two decades.

Over that time, these Children’s Centers have delivered research results where they are needed most, and have come to exemplify how to study—and meet—environmentally related public health challenges through science, collaboration, and community outreach.

The list of direct, positive impacts is long. Examples include the work done by scientists from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health on the health effects of exposures to certain kinds of pesticides. Results from those studies sparked the adoption of integrated pest management techniques and neighborhood notification laws that have fundamentally changed how New York City addresses pest control. Another notable example is how evidence from studies conducted at the University of Washington Children’s Center informed EPA’s decision to phase out the use of the chemical azinphos-methyl in pesticides.

And those are just two of the many, many examples we can look back on to show the impact that Children’s Centers research have had on improving public health for some of our most vulnerable populations and lifestages. As a new granddad myself, I can tell you that what is equally exciting is to look to the future. By design, the work of the Children’s Centers unite scientists and other experts across a wide spectrum of disciplines. These teams are actively tapping into a wealth of new data streams in chemical screening and toxicology to bring fresh, innovative approaches to tackling the complex challenges that affect children’s health.

Those integrated approaches are increasing the pace of discovery at an amazing rate. But the Children’s Centers don’t stop there. Because of the urgent nature of the work, science translation and community outreach are high priorities. Children’s Center research is designed from the very beginning with the end user in mind. They partner with daycare providers, community leaders, pediatricians and nurses, caregivers, teachers, and parents to ensure that research results are accessible, easy to understand, and ready to support action as soon as possible.

The Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers will continue to help meet our highest priority in keeping kids healthy and safe. While we must remain vigilant to keep the science flowing to public health officials, the impact of that work proves that the future is looking brighter every day.

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D, MPH, is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the Agency’s Science Advisor. Prior to coming to EPA, Dr. Burke served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


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