Children's environmental health: One year in a pediatric environmental health specialty unit

  • Shannon M
  • Woolf A
  • Goldman R
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Background/Objective. - As a result of an increasing desire among physicians and parents for clinical centers that can evaluate children with known or suspected exposures to environmental toxicants, a network of federally funded "pediatric environmental health specialty units" has recently been created. This descriptive study profiles the children seen in one unit of this program. Setting. - A New England, university-affiliated Pediatric Environmental Health Center (PEHC). Methods. - Review and analysis of all children seen in the PEHC in calendar year 1999. Results. - Over the course of the year, 281 children made 863 visits to the PEHC. Presenting complaints fell into 4 major categories: new visit for management of lead intoxication (n = 248), return visit for management of lead intoxication (n = 569), new visit for evaluation of exposure to an environmental toxicant other than lead (n = 33), and return visit for the management of exposure to a non-lead toxicant (n = 13). Among those children with new visits for a non-lead toxicant, the most common chief complaints were exposure to solvent-contaminated water (n = 7), pesticide exposure (n = 6), illness associated with proximity to a hazardous waste site (n = 6), autism from suspected mercury intoxication (n = 4), and evaluation of school-induced, building-related illness ("sick school syndrome")(n = 4). Eleven children had autism or pervasive developmental delay. Families traveled distances as great as 450 kilometers for evaluation by a pediatric environmental health clinical specialist. Every child was evaluated by a pediatrician with subspecialty training in medical toxicology. Environmental investigation of air, water, paint, dust, or land was conducted for all except 4 children (all foreign-born adoptees). Therapeutic interventions included chelation therapy, relocation to a safe environment, removal from school, and termination of chelation therapy that had been initiated by another practitioner. Third-party payors provided full reimbursement for all visits. Conclusions. - The chief complaints of the children brought to pediatric environmental health specialty units are diverse, involving exposures to a wide range of toxicants from all environmental media (air, water, soil, and food). Parents desiring such an evaluation must often travel extensive distances, suggesting the need for a broader network of such centers. Third-party payors and health maintenance organizations are willing to provide full reimbursement for these services.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Pediatric environmental health
  • Specialty Units

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  • Michael Shannon

  • Alan Woolf

  • Rose Goldman

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