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Chronic Childhood Diseases Linked to Toxic Chemical Exposures

1 in 8

Number of U.S. children born prematurely. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in the first months of life and the leading cause of disability. Its price tag is $26 billion per year in medical costs, special services and lost productivity. Preterm birth has demonstrable links to air pollution, especially maternal exposure to fine particles and combustion byproducts of the type released from coal-burning power plants.

1 in 11

Number of U.S. children with asthma, the most chronic childhood disease and a leading cause of school absenteeism. Asthma symptoms have been linked to certain ingredients in plastic (phthalates) as well as outdoor air pollution, including traffic exhaust. The annual cost of childhood asthma is estimated at $18 billion. Its incidence has doubled since 1980.

1 in 10

Number of U.S. children with a learning disability, and nearly the same number with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. All together, special education services now consume 22 percent of U.S. school spending – about $77.3 billion per year at last count. Neurodevelopmental disorders have significant associations with exposures to air pollution, organophosphate pesticides, and the heavy metals lead, mercury and arsenic, among others.

1 in 110

Number of U.S. children with autism or on the autism spectrum. Annual costs are $35 billion. Causes are unknown, but exposure to chemical agents in early pregnancy is one of several suspected contributors.

1 in 10

Number of U.S. white girls and 1 in 15 U.S. blacks girls who begin breast development before the age of eight. On average, breast development begins nearly two years earlier (age 9) than it did in the early 1960s (age 11). A risk factor for breast cancer in adulthood, early puberty in girls is associated with increasing body fat as well as exposure to some hormonally active chemical agents. We have no cost estimates for the shortened childhood of girls.

Source: Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis by Sandra Steingraber, Da Capo Press, 2011. Steingraber is the keynote speaker at The Health Forum: Environmental Links to Cancer and Human Health being held May 10 at Stone Harbor Resort in Sturgeon Bay.