Environmental toxins cost billions for children's health

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Toxins and childhood health

Researchers warn of the dangers of childhood exposure to environmental toxins that accounted for 3.5 percent of all health care dollars spent in 2008. The cost of conditions like childhood cancer, asthma, autism, lead poisoning and ADHD has been estimated to be $76.6 billion in 2008. Scientists are calling for a three part plan of action to protect the health of kids and reduce the financial burden associated with air pollution and toxic chemicals.


A team of scientists at Mount Sinai School of Medicine calculated the cost of environmental exposure to toxins in children. In a separate article, published in the journal, Health Affairs, George Washington University scientists propose a plan of action to address the public health issue.

Leonardo Trasande, MD, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School estimated lead poisoning accounted for 50.9 billion in spending in 2008, autism, 7.9 billion, learning disabilities, 5.4 billion and mercury pollution 5.1 billion. The financial burden of childhood cancer was estimated at 95 million, asthma from air pollution 2.2 billion and ADHD 5 billion.

Trasande explains the cost of childhood diseases linked to environmental chemicals and air pollution will continue to rise "if the issue is not addressed". Childhood morbidity associated with diseases from high levels of particulate matter and toxins in the environment will also escalate without new public policies.

Examination of environmental toxins needed to curb disease and morbidity

Dr. Landrigan and Lynn R. Goldman, MD, Dean of the School of Public Health at George Washington University propose an examination of currently marketed toxic chemicals, using advanced technology to include those most widely used. Their second recommendation is to strictly regulate new potential toxins and study them thoroughly before approval.


Lastly, the researchers say improved monitoring and epidemiological studies are needed to completely understand the health effects toxins have on kids. "Our findings show that, despite previous efforts to curb their use, toxic chemicals have a major impact on health care costs and childhood morbidity," said Dr. Trasande. "New policy mandates are necessary to reduce the burden of disease associated with environmental toxins. The prevalence of chronic childhood conditions and costs associated with them may continue to rise if this issue is not addressed."

Dr. Landrigan says there has not been enough legislation passed to protect children from toxins in the environment. Implementing a plan of action would" have a significant impact in preventing childhood disease and reducing health costs."

Air pollution costs $15 million annually

In another article, researchers addressed respiratory infections in children from air pollution.Perry Sheffield, MD, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, found a relationship between bronchiolitis - an asthma type infection in children - and the level of particulate matter within the hospital. The data came from an analysis of data of children hospitalized between 1999 and 2007. Reducing air pollution would save $15 million annually in U.S. health care costs.

The combined findings highlight the importance of researching and monitoring the effects of toxins in the environment on kid's health that costs billions in 2008. Respiratory infection, cancer, ADHD, autism and other diseases are linked to environmental pollution and chemicals that can cause harm, especially to children.

Health Affairs

Updated: 3/9/2017