The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute for Environmental Health sciences have renewed funding for the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health. The four-year, $5.7 million grant, one of five newly announced awards, will support continued research focusing on air pollution and brain development and the dissemination of findings in partnership with community groups.
The EPA and the NIEHS have supported CCCEH since 1998 at the launch of the Mother’s and Newborns study, consisting of 725 African-American and Latino pregnant women and their children who live in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx—areas disproportionately burdened by environmental pollution. In the intervening years, CCCEH researchers have developed innovative methods such as epigenetics to uncover links between prenatal exposures to air pollutants, pesticides, secondhand smoke, and flame retardants and reduced fetal growth and developmental problems.
As one of 14 Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers, CCCEH will pursue continued research into health outcomes related to exposure to a family of common air pollutants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) produced by emissions from motor vehicles, oil, and coal-burning for home heating and power generation, tobacco smoke, and other combustion sources. Outcomes include cognitive, emotional, and behavioral health, as well as risk for obesity in the children, now adolescents.
In tandem with its scientific activities, CCCEH partners with community groups on health education campaigns and disseminate information to help policymakers produce policies to protect children’s health. Center findings have influenced policies to protect against environmental toxins, including among others, New York City’s Local Law 77, which mandated that all large vehicles, including the MTA bus fleet convert from dirty to ultra-low sulfur diesel, and recent reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act that give the EPA new authority to scrutinize the safety of chemicals before they go on the market, require existing chemicals to be tested for toxicity, and regulate harmful chemicals.
“In everything we do, we strive to support healthy communities and healthy children, free from the threats of environmental toxins,” says Frederica Perera, founding director of CCCEH and professor of Environmental Health Sciences.