We know that all of the toxins and pollutants we — and our families — are exposed to every day can have high costs when it comes to our health. Now the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health is examining the financial costs of children’s toxic chemical exposure. Their just-released report examines the environmentally attributable direct and indirect health care costs of four childhood diseases linked to environmental toxins — asthma, lead poisoning, pediatric cancer and neurodevelopmental disorders. The treatment for these health issues costs Michigan an average of $5.85 billion a year! Just think how much money one state could save by protecting children from environmental toxins, and thus helping to reduce the number of children affected by these preventable diseases.

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The Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health, the group at the helm of the report, The Price of Pollution: Cost Estimates of Environment-Related Childhood Disease in Michigan, is an Ann-Arbor based coalition of health and environmental groups. They modeled their study after a 2002 study from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York that studied the costs of these preventable childhood diseases nationwide.

In the Mt. Sinai study, researchers defined environmental pollutants as “toxic chemicals of human origin in air, food, water, and communities,” and used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others. Because some costs associated with these disease aren’t due to environmental toxins, the researchers determined percentages to help estimate costs. They judged the environmental attributable fraction to be 100% for lead poisoning, 30% for asthma, 5% for cancer and 10% for neurobehavioral disorders.

In 2002, the total annual cost estimate for the country was $54.9 billion, or 2.8 of total U.S. health care costs. Broken down by disease: $43.4 billion for lead poisoning, $2 billion for asthma, $0.3 billion for childhood cancer, and $9.2 billion for neurobehavioral disorders.

The 2010 study in Michigan estimated costs for each childhood disease to be $4.85 billion for lead poisoning, $88.4 million for asthma, $17.3 million for pediatric cancer, and $845 million for neurodevelopmental disorders.

What You Can Do

As a green-minded parent, you’re probably already doing a lot to protect your child from toxic chemicals the diseases often associated with them: Finding non-toxic child care, buying BPA-free baby bottles, helping to reduce your child’s exposure to automotive pollution, avoiding synthetic food dyes, green cleaning your carpets, playing away from arsenic-treated playground equipment, choosing eco-friendly toys are more.

But the bigger issue here is that someone else needs to be protecting your child. The country’s chemical safety laws are currently outdated. Today, the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee will hold hearings on the “Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010,” the overdue potential overhaul of the “1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.” The proposed updates will help protect kids from many different toxins including BPA, lead, cadmium and flame retardants. To understand the important differences, you can see a breakdown of the difference from the 1976 bill to the proposed 2010 update on the Environmental Defense Fund’s blog.

It’s no coincidence that the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health released this report on the cost of kids’ toxic chemical exposure in Michigan this week. They wanted to bring more attention to the importance of the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010 now for both parents and congressmen alike.

The bill has a long battle of many committee hearings before it will become law. You can help the “Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010” get through its legislative journey by writing to Congress. Both the NRDC’s Action Center and the Safer Chemicals Healthy Coalition make taking action easy. Also, you may want to check locally to help the state you live in pass state-specific legislation. In Michigan, ask your senator to pass the Michigan Children’s Safe Products Act for example.

+ The Price of Pollution: Cost Estimates of Environment-Related Childhood Disease in Michigan

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