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Stay up to date with our recent research findings, news features, and publications below! Our blog is a great place to learn more detailed information about the collective nationwide network of Children's Environmental Health researchers and their findings.

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Although most U.S. children under age six spend up to 40 hours a week in childcare settings, little has been done to protect young children from environmental health hazards in childcare and preschools.

Aside from lead, asbestos, and radon, the federal government has not instituted requirements or guidelines to protect children from the same chemical exposures that companies are required to inform workers of in workplace settings. Some of the environmental toxicants in schools that pose the biggest risk for children include:

  1. Air pollutants: The airways of young children are smaller than those of adults. Inhalation of air pollutants that would produce only a slight response in an adult can result in significant obstruction in the airways of a young child. Asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness and the impact of asthma falls disproportionately on African American and certain Hispanic populations and appears to be particularly severe in urban inner cities. Major triggers of asthma attacks include irritants such as commercial products (paints, cleaning agents, pesticides, perfumes, building components (sealants, plastics adhesives, insulation), animal and insect allergens, environmental tobacco smoke, and molds). (Source)

  2. Air quality: Poor indoor air quality can reduce a person’s ability to perform specific mental tasks requiring concentration, calculation, or memory. Air quality problems in schools can arise from mold growth from excessive moisture, chemical emissions, insufficient fresh air, pollutants, and high radon levels. (Source)

  3. Pesticides: Pesticide exposure may result in symptoms ranging from relatively mild headaches and skin rashes to paralysis and death. Some long-term illnesses linked to pesticide expire may be subtle such as neurological disorders or reduced cognitive skills. Delayed onsets and long-term illnesses include cancer, which may appear years after exposure. Pesticide use in schools can be widespread and can include “routine spraying” to prevent the development of problems due to infestation in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, and outdoor areas such as sports fields and the playground. (Source)

  4. Diesel exhaust from school busses: diesel engine emissions contribute to serious public health problems including premature mortality, aggravation of existing asthma, acute respiratory symptoms, chronic bronchitis, and decreased lung function. Diesel exhaust is known to be a major source of fine particles that can lodge into the lungs of children, increasing the likelihood of asthma, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease. (Source)

  5. Mold: Mold grows on virtually any substance when moisture and oxygen are present including ceiling tiles, carpets, wood, and paper. Some molds, such as black molds are known to produce potent toxins which can cause impaired breathing and cause allergies. Children can be exposed to mold in schools if the building has indoor air that is very damp or if there have been water leaks. Mold can grow within 48 hours if the building materials or furnishings are damp. (Source)

  6. Lead: Exposure to lead can cause a variety of health effects including delays in normal physical and mental development in children, slight deficits in attention span, hearing, and learning disabilities. Long-term effects can include stroke, kidney disease, and cancer. A common source of lead in schools and daycare centers includes lead paint and the contaminated dust and soil it generates. Children may also be exposed to lead through drinking water that has elevated concentrations from lead plumbing materials. (Source)

What is the gut microbiome and why is it important to your health?

In a lot of the research we share, we reference your gut microbiome, but what exactly does that mean and how does your unique gut microbiome affect health outcomes in developing children?

The microbiome is the population of microbes living in and on the body that is acquired from an individual’s environment. This population of microbes is hugely relevant to human health, providing both innate and adaptive immunity to pathogens. The microbiome has been linked to allergy development, the effectiveness of drugs and vaccines, and numerous other factors.

Each person has an entirely unique network of microbiota that is originally determined by one’s DNA. A person is first exposed to microorganisms as an infant, during delivery in the birth canal and through the mother’s breast milk. Exactly which microorganisms the infant is exposed to depends solely on the species found in the mother. Later on, environmental exposures and diet can change one’s microbiome to be either beneficial to health or place one at greater risk for disease.

Over the course of the first year or two of our lives, our gut microbiome changes quickly, but stabilizes by the time we reach the age of three. As we continue to age, our environment, our long-term diet, stress, and the drugs we take, such as antibiotics, continue to play a role in changing our microbiome.

Why has the gut microbiome become such a hot topic in recent years?

In recent years the gut microbiome, in particular, has been linked to a plethora of diseases and conditions, from diabetes to autism and anxiety to obesity.

The gut microbiome has also been linked to how individuals respond to certain drugs, including how cancer patients respond to chemotherapy, and it has even, tentatively, been suggested that it could be linked with how well we sleep.

Meanwhile, a range of studies have raised the importance of other aspects of our microbiome, including that the vaginal microbiome is important in whether an HIV-prevention drug applied to the vagina is effective.

What has the Children’s Environmental Health and Research Center at Dartmouth discovered about the long-term health outcomes associated with our research on the infant gut microbiome?

Using data from the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study, researchers found that a baby delivered by c-section and wiped with a pad of gauze which was first rested in the vagina would develop a gut microbiome more similar to that of a baby delivered via vaginal birth, indicating that the vaginal environment provides a unique microbiome.

Researchers from Dartmouth also discovered that even relatively low levels of arsenic in drinking water sourced from private wells in New Hampshire had a significant association with infant gut microbiome composition.

Did you know: PCBs were widely used in construction materials until 1979, meaning dozens, maybe hundreds, of Vermont school buildings could have high airborne levels of the chemicals. While the local and state governments deliberate on the best course of action to take in addressing the issue, it’s important to be aware of the indoor air quality within your home as well.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Improve Ventilation: One approach to lowering the concentrations of indoor air pollutants in your home is to increase the amount of outdoor air coming indoors.

Natural ventilation can also improve indoor air quality by reducing pollutants that are indoors. Examples of natural ventilation are:

  • opening windows and doors

  • window shading such as closing the blinds

2. Use Air Cleaners and Filters: There are many types and sizes of air cleaners on the market, ranging from relatively inexpensive table-top models to sophisticated and expensive whole-house systems. Some air cleaners are highly effective at particle removal, while others, including most table-top models, are much less so.

Air cleaners are generally not designed to remove gaseous pollutants. Check out the NYTimes list of best indoor air quality monitors:

Another important factor in determining the effectiveness of an air cleaner is the strength of the pollutant source. Table-top air cleaners, in particular, may not remove satisfactory amounts of pollutants from strong nearby sources. People with a sensitivity to particular sources may find that air cleaners are helpful only in conjunction with concerted efforts to remove the source.

Consider HEPA air filters (high efficiency particulate air [filter]). This type of air filter can theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns (µm).

3. Bring the Outdoors In: Plants!

Over the past few years, there has been some publicity suggesting that houseplants have been shown to reduce levels of some chemicals in laboratory experiments. There is currently no evidence, however, that a reasonable number of houseplants remove significant quantities of pollutants in homes and offices. Indoor houseplants should not be over-watered because overly damp soil may promote the growth of microorganisms which can affect allergic individuals.

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