Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health
The Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health conducts scientific research to investigate the health effects in children of prenatal and early postnatal exposure to a range of common environmental pollutants. The purpose of the research is to improve child respiratory health and cognitive development, and reduce the risk of childhood cancer by identifying environmental toxicants, genetic susceptibility factors, and conditions related to poverty that increase disease risk. Founded in 1998, the Center conducts research in New York City, Poland, China, and Mexico.
Babies developing in the womb and children in their first years of life are more sensitive to pollutants than adults. Children living in lower-income neighborhoods in particular are disproportionately exposed to air pollutants from vehicle exhausts, commercial fuel burning, tobacco smoke, residential pesticides, cockroach and mouse allergens, and mold.
For the last six years, the Center's largest study has focused on a sample of more than 700 low-income children of color living in the New York City neighborhoods of Washington Heights, Harlem, and the South Bronx, where asthma rates are highest in the nation, and rates of low birth weight are higher than in the rest of New York City.
The Center's research has demonstrated significant associations between prenatal exposures to pollutants from sources described above and decreased fetal growth, impaired neurocognitive development, and worse respiratory health in young children. Biomarkers associated with cancer risk have also been detected.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the United States Environmental Protection Agency recently re-funded CCCEH to continue this study for the next five years. Follow-up of children through age 8 will enable long-term health effects to be studied, revealing more fully how these early environmental exposures affect children's risk of asthma and developmental disorders.
CCCEH communicates its research findings to local community residents as well as to the broader public. From its inception, the Center has worked in close partnership with a community advisory board of direct health service and environmental advocacy organizations in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, including West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), to help shape the design of its scientific research and produce a community education campaign on preventive measures that individuals can implement at home to reduce toxic exposures and make their families' environments safer.
Community efforts are also underway to apply the Center's scientific findings to public policies related to emissions and environmental quality standards, product regulation, housing, and land use. CCCEH makes its research results accessible to community groups and policymakers working to improve the environmental status of neighborhoods exposed to a disproportionate share of pollutants.