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Stimulus Plan to Advance Research on Environmental Toxins and Kids' Health

Sunday, March 22, 2009

One bit of good news to come out of the economic crisis: the stimulus bill's $10.4 billion for biomedical and behavioral research, to be distributed through the National Institutes of Health.

The infusion of funds comes not a moment too soon: federal government funding for basic research has been essentially flat since 2005, a circumstance that has caused many a promising young researcher to seek work elsewhere.

At least $200 million will go to researchers around the country to "jumpstart" two-year projects on high priority topics.

The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, under the new leadership of microbiologist Linda Birnbaum, plans to channel stimulus funds to a several areas identified by many researchers as urgent. Among them:

  • Reducing the human body burden of chemicals and reversing the course of environmentally-triggered diseases.
  • Measuring the body burden of "emerging contaminants" whose damage to o health is little understood.
  • Studying the changes in genes caused by environmental exposures and how prenatal chemical exposures may reprogram genes to trigger disease later in life or even in succeeding generations.
  • Evaluating risks of nanomaterials.
  • Using stem cells instead of lab animals to predict toxicity of chemicals.
  • Studying health effects of climate change.

Birnbaum, who spent 19 years at the Environmental Protection Agency, has said that she will preside over a much more concerted effort to explore the effects of environmental chemicals during critical stages of development - that is, the impact of chemical exposures to the fetus and infants.

That's good news because the more solid science there is, the more we will understand about how environmental factors interfere with normal development. And the better equipped we will be to protect children from subtle toxins whose damage manifests itself decades later.

The past eight years of stalled budgets for scientific research have taken their toll on our nation's research laboratories, and, very probably, our children's futures. As we often say here at EWG, we only have one chance to protect our kids' health.

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