The first federal research centers dedicated to the protection of the health of children from environmental threat are being created by the U.S. Environmental protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A total of $10 million has been allocated for the initial year of the centers. The agencies today announced that they are accepting applications from non-profit institutions to establish six such centers nationally.
The funding for the centers will come from EPA and the HHS National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health. A third federal agency, the HHS Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has pledged to provide support and coordination for the centers.
Applications for the centers will be accepted from domestic institutions such as medical schools, schools of public health and/or consortiums of the institutions. Applications are due by Jan. 21, 1998, and the centers would be established by September 1998.
This large collaborative effort is part of the Clinton administration's actions to protect children. EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner and HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala are co-chairing a task force, called for in an Executive Order by President Clinton, to address the environmental health risks and safety risks to children.
Browner announced the plan for these centers in February 1997. At the centers, research will be conducted on the possible environmental causes of children's illnesses and disorders, especially understanding the mechanisms of respiratory disease, including asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases; the impact of common environmental contaminants, such as lead or mercury, on intellectual development; and the influence on initial growth and development of exposure to certain environmental agents before or after birth.
"Sound science is a crucial prerequisite in our efforts to protect children's health from environmental hazards," said Browner. "We must increase understanding of the ways to detect, treat and prevent environmentally related diseases and health threats. These centers will expedite such advances necessary to better protect our children."
"Children have an increased susceptibility to many environmental agents," said Shalala. "They are physically smaller, their tissues and organs are developing and growing very rapidly, so they are especially vulnerable. These centers will be an opportunity to research treatment and prevention of environmental diseases in children and thereby enhance their entire lives, and serve as part of our legacy to them."
Over the last four years, the Clinton Administration has taken several actions to protect children from environmental health threats. In 1995, the first-ever national policy was initiated to consistently and explicitly take into account health risks to children and infants from environmental hazards when conducting assessments of environmental risks. In April 1997, President Clinton issued and Executive Order assigning high priority to addressing environmental health and safety risks to children and ordering all federal agencies to coordinate their research priorities on children's health and ensure that their standards take into account special risks to children. Additionally, EPA Administrator Browner has established the Agency's Office of Children's Health Protection to address a wide array of complex threats to children's health, from air pollution that can exacerbate asthma to toxic chemicals that can lead to serious health problems, and to expand the family's right to know about environmental issues affecting children. On Sept. 15-16, EPA will convene a conference of leading experts on children's health issues to address the Preventable Causes of Cancer in Children. The recommendations of the conference will be used in the development of the research agenda called for in the President's Executive Order.
The initial finding for the research centers will come from the fiscal year 1998 budget of NIH (NIEHS) and EPA (Science to Achieve Results program). Further funding will be included in subsequent budget requests. Each center will be required to include in its proposal a plan for extensive community involvement in order to build grassroots participation in their proposed activities. The centers will be expected to maximize opportunities for information exchange between the center researchers and community members, including publishing annual reports. The research at each center will be linked with a community-based project benefiting children.
NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden said, "We're asking universities and other research centers to propose innovative research that will reduce the environmental health risks to our children. This research will impact the health of our children in the areas of respiratory disease and disorders in intellectual and growth development that is associated with environmental exposures. We want to produce research that will enable health care practitioners to more effectively prevent, detect and treat environmentally related diseases and health conditions."
Applications will undergo extensive peer review by experts inside and outside of government. A letter of intent-to-apply must be received by the agencies by Sept. 30, 1997. Requests for applications were published on Aug. 29 in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts Information on the grant process, where letters of intent should be directed and other pertinent information is available on the Internet at www.epa.gov.ncerqa.