Brown University School of Engineering

Superfund Research Program: Seminar

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Friday, March 01, 2013 12:00pm - 1:00pm

"Assessing the Public Health Import of Children’s Exposures to Environmental Chemicals: An Alternative Approach to Risk Assessment," presented by Dr. David C. Bellinger, Dept. of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health. The impact of environmental chemicals on children’s neurodevelopment is sometimes dismissed as unimportant because the impairments observed among individual children are viewed as “clinically insignificant.” This reflects a failure to distinguish between individual and population risk. The population impact of a risk factor depends both on the effect size associated with it and its distribution (or incidence/prevalence). A set of analyses will be discussed in which the total number of IQ points lost among U.S. children under 5 years of age is calculated for a variety of medical conditions and events (e.g., congenital heart disease, preterm birth, traumatic brain injury, iron deficiency, ADHD, autism) and certain environmental chemical exposures (lead, methylmercury, organophosphate pesticides). The results show that the number of IQ points lost as a result of some chemical exposures exceeds the numbers associated with many other neurodevelopmental risk factors, largely due to the high prevalence of these exposures. The relative importance of different risk factors likely differs by region and culture, and this approach can be used to conduct within-country and between-country comparisons of the importance of different risk factors. The strategy provides a rational basis for establishing priorities for reducing neurodevelopmental morbidities in children, suggesting that a “population-oriented” approach to risk assessment provides a better estimate of the public health impact of an exposure than does a more traditional “disease-oriented” approach.