Researchers say environmental pollution is important piece of social justice debate

While environmental pollutants constantly swirl around children in all walks of life, past research has shown that children in poor, minority populations are disproportionately likely to be exposed to harmful toxins such as lead and agricultural pesticides.

Local, state and federal policies have strived in recent decades to limit such exposures. Policies have mandated the routine testing of blood lead levels in Medicaid-eligible children, for instance, while requiring that public health authorities eliminate lead sources-such as lead-based paint and lead dust - in high-risk homes. Similarly, environmental regulations have banned the use of certain pesticides in agriculture.

But despite the good intentions, such preventive efforts are irregularly enforced, often under-funded, and rarely targeted at those who need them the most, write researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the March/April issue of Child Development.

"One of the reasons we wrote this paper was to put together information on the inequities in exposure to pollutants," says co-author Colleen Moore, a UW-Madison professor of psychology and the author of "Silent Scourge: Children, Pollution and Why Scientists Disagree." "The policies that are in place for the general population are not working as well for the minority groups that are most exposed."

For example, African-American children in low-income families are much more likely to live in lead-contaminated housing, says lead author Janean Dilworth-Bart, a child development researcher and assistant professor at UW-Madison's School of Human Ecology. "A lot of tenant-based lead reduction programs focus on educating parents, but low income parents usually lead extremely stressful lives in which they might have tenuous housing, might be a single parent or might even have lost a child," she says. "These types of programs have been shown to have limited effectiveness in reducing lead burdens, so the real solutio


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