Caring About Kids

I have two daughters, ages four and seven, and the girls were on my mind as I was editing this issue’s comprehensive package on children’s environmental health. I think my wife and I do a reasonable job of protecting them from harm: We walk them to the school bus, make sure they look both ways before crossing the street, belt them in and use booster seats in the car, go easy on the junk food and serve organics, use nontoxic products around the house, and we supervise them closely when they’re swimming or playing in the yard. But is that enough in a world saturated with chemical dangers?

No matter how careful we might be, modern society exposes our most vulnerable citizens—the children—to a myriad of risks in the course of daily life. As our story notes, there are dangerous chemicals in the carpet, pesticides on fruit, mercury in fish and toxic compounds in the very air we breathe. At some point, I’m going to have to tell the girls that we live in what the Environmental Protection Agency has designated a "severe non-attainment area" for air quality.

Are we being overprotective of our kids to worry about such things? My cousin did such a thorough job childproofing her home that it was difficult for anyone to open a cabinet or use the stove. But some of the biggest dangers are things we can’t see. As our story documents, rates of childhood asthma, cancer, endocrine disruption and birth defects are all increasing, despite notable advances in medical care and parental awareness of chemical exposure risk.

On page 38, an interview with mothers Olivia Newton-John, Kelly Preston and Nancy Chuda, you"ll read about the devasting loss of Chuda’s daughter, Colette, from a rare form of non-hereditary cancer. Chuda is convinced that Colette’s death was caused by exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, and her experience led her to create the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) 10 years ago.

One of the reasons this subject is such a nightmare for parents is that chemical exposure can be an elusive cause of childhood illness. Did exposure to some unnamed toxin make your child sick? Science provides no easy tests or definitive causation. But these facts, courtesy of CHEC, are clear: The average home contains three to 10 gallons of hazardous materials; 90 percent of the 80,000 chemicals we live with have never been safety tested; 400 synthetic chemicals can be found in the average human body; and current law allows 350 different pesticides to be used on the food we eat.

E considers this issue so important that we decided to devote our entire feature space to it. By reading it, you"ll learn not only about the science of exposure, but what the government is doing (or not doing) about it and where to go for help if you suspect your children have a chemically induced illness. You"ll find out about the increasing influence of the chemical lobby in the Bush Administration, and you"ll hear from doctors and parents about this problem we face. As a parent myself, I found the information enlightening and empowering. Keeping pesticides and toxic chemicals away from my kids is now part of my everyday struggle to keep them safe.

Jim Motavalli