Of toxins in children's lives
“Sadly, everyone knows a child with cancer, Autism, asthma, or obesity,” says Alex Bergstein, the 40-something Greenwich mother, lawyer, and PhD student who, together with her board of fellow activists at Greening Our Children, raises funds and awareness for the Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “The evidence shows that exposure to environmental toxins is a significant contributor to these illnesses.”
While infectious disease was once the leading public-health concern in the United States, the incidence of chronic diseases has since skyrocketed. The CEHC, under the direction of Dr. Philip Landrigan, conducts research to identify their preventable environmental causes and to provide solutions.
With scientific evidence in hand, Greening Our Children set out seven years ago to ensure that parents, policy makers, and healthcare providers were well-informed of the dangers. Bergstein’s colleagues, Darien’s Rhonda Sherwood and Toby Cone, started locally by successfully working with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to get BPA, an industrial chemical that acts as a hormone disruptor and can cause chronic health problems, banned from use in baby bottles, sippy cups, and cash register receipts in Connecticut.
Bergstein says her biggest surprise when she became involved with GOC was the inadequacy of legislation. “We have no protection from chemicals that have been proven to cause health problems,” she explains. “There is far greater protection in Europe. So, a big part of what we do is informing and working for change. Our volunteers were just in Albany recently, speaking to legislators.”
While continuing to spread the word, Greening our Children also tirelessly seeks out financial support for Dr. Landrigan’s work. In the past seven years, GOC has raised $1.3 million to fund pilot projects. Their preliminary results led to over $11 million in National Institutes of Health funding for further ground-breaking research.
An exciting CEHC project currently supported by Greening Our Children is the Mount Sinai Pregnancy Biobank—a unique tissue repository that enables researchers to collect umbilical cord blood and placental tissue samples from thousands of babies born at Mount Sinai Hospital. Dr. Landrigan’s team is currently testing for toxins at birth and then plans follow the babies during their first ten years of life to examine the links between environmental exposures and conditions like asthma, obesity, diabetes, and other neuro-developmental disorders. With a plan to enroll up to 10,000 babies by 2015, the CEHC hopes to discover the causes of some of the most common childhood diseases.
Greening Our Children sponsors seminars throughout the year to inform the public on topics ranging from how to Build a Green Community to Simple Steps to Avoid Environmental Toxins. And, each spring, they hold a gala fundraiser to honor movers and shakers in the field, share news, and, of course, raise funds. This year’s benefit on May 16 will include a Green Expo, where eco-friendly products, pre-screened by the CEHC, will be exhibited. Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, will receive the Champion for Children Award, and actress and environmental activist Jennifer Beals will be a special guest.