Our Legacy

Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc and the team at the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) are deeply experienced in translating biomedical research into effective and successful strategies for improving children’s health and preventing disease. We know how to do research and we know how to use research findings to advocate for evidence-based policies that protect children against toxic exposures in the environment. We have done it before. We will do it again.

We have done it before

Dr. Landrigan’s work in disease prevention began at the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC), where he led efforts to control measles and rubella epidemics across the United States. During his time at CDC, Dr Landrigan also worked in the Global Campaign for the Eradication of Smallpox, one of the great medical triumphs of the twentieth century. Smallpox used to kill thousands of people around the world every year. Now it is gone from the face of the earth.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Landrigan began a series of landmark studies into the effects of lead on American children. Through careful epidemiologic investigations conducted among children who lived near a large lead smelter in El Paso, Texas, he found that lead can cause brain damage to children – even when exposures are too low to cause obvious signs and symptoms. The results of lead exposure in early childhood are diminished intelligence, shortened attention spans, and disrupted behavior.

Ultimately, this was a breakthrough discovery. These findings, which paralleled and complemented the work of Dr. Landrigan's colleague Dr. Herbert Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh, led to fundamental new understanding of how lead and other toxic chemicals can damage the developing brains of infants and children.

Dr. Landrigan’s and Dr. Needleman’s research on lead and children’s health was critical in persuading the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove lead from gasoline and paint. These actions reduced American children’s blood lead levels by over 90%. They led to a 95% decline in the prevalence of lead poisoning. They increased the average IQ score of American children by about 6 points. Additionally the decline in lead exposure has produced an economic benefit to the United States that is estimated to be approximately $40 billion each year, which is mainly the result of the increased economic productivity of the American children and adults who are now no longer burdened by lead.

The decline in blood lead levels in American children that was triggered by Dr Landrigan’s work is shown in this chart produced by the CDC:

Dr. Landrigan made a second critical contribution through his work as Chairman of a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee that examined the effects of pesticides on children's health. This Committee's groundbreaking report, entitled "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children," was released in 1993 and has profoundly changed public policy on pesticides and other toxic substances. This report found that children are uniquely susceptible to effects of pesticides. It argued that "children are not little adults," and it called for stricter regulations on pesticide use to protect the health of America's children.

The National Academy of Sciences report on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children was profoundly influential. It served as the blueprint for the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, the major US federal law governing pesticides. This law – which was passed unanimously by both Houses of the US Congress – embodied virtually every recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences report that Dr. Landrigan chaired. It tightened EPA regulations on pesticides. It called for reassessment of the safety of pesticides in food. It imposed stricter safety standards – especially for infants and children. The Food Quality Protection Act is the only federal environmental law that contains explicit provisions for the protection of children’s health.

Beyond the Food Quality Protection Act, the National Academy of Sciences report that Dr. Landrigan chaired created the intellectual foundation for the 1997 Presidential Executive Order on Children’s Health and the Environment. This report recognized that children are unique susceptibility to environmental hazards, creating the foundation for the National Children’s Study.

We will do it again

The research we conduct at CEHC employs the same evidence-based, epidemiologic framework that Dr. Landrigan used in his work on measles, lead and pesticides. We recruit the best and the brightest young physicians and scientists to work with us in the growing field of environmental pediatrics, and we provide the educational resources to train the next generation of leaders in children’s environmental health. By providing our scientists with these resources, we give them the tools they need to conduct sophisticated research that leads towards evidence-based policies that protect children from environmental threats to health.

Our researchers have published important research papers in the most highly cited scientific journals on topics that include:
• Prenatal exposure to pesticides and impairments in neurodevelopment
• Prenatal exposure to phthalates and delays in learning
• Industrial chemicals and neurodevelopmental disorders
• Environmental origins of childhood cancer
• Environmental origins of autism
• The contribution of the urban built environment to childhood obesity

We have advocated for the protection of children’s health by writing editorials for The New York Times, presenting testimony before the President’s Cancer Panel and US Congress, and appearing on local and network television as authoritative sources on topics related to children’s environmental health. Dr. Landrigan has also made presentations before the United States EPA, the World Health Organization, state and county legislators, PTAs, and other parents’ groups.


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