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DHS news release

March 27, 2007

General contact:   Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282

Program contact:   Rick Leiker, 971-673-0434

Children’s environmental health Web site offers help for parents


Toxins in the environment pose a particular health risk to children. Public health officials want parents and other caregivers to know about a Web resource that can help them protect their children.


“There are a number of reasons why children are at a higher risk of harm from toxins,” said Rick Leiker, environmental toxicology manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division. “Their small size means they eat more food, drink more water and breathe more air per pound than adults do, which results in a higher exposure.”


Children are likely to play close to the ground and often put their fingers and hands in their mouths, which adds to their exposure risk. Because young bodies grow and develop rapidly, toxins have the ability to cause lasting harm, according to Leiker.


“Children have more years of life ahead, which allows more time for them to develop chronic conditions like asthma, allergies or respiratory infections,” said Leiker. “Sometimes a toxic exposure can lead to a lifetime of lowered intelligence, learning disabilities or physical coordination problems.”


Many toxins are part of everyday life, so parents may not realize their danger. Leiker listed pesticides, secondhand smoke, lead paint and household chemicals as common examples. “The effects of some of these toxins won’t be seen until children are fully grown,” he said. “Parents need to be able to recognize potential risks so they take protective action.”


The DHS Public Health Division works with other state agencies such as the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to reduce exposure to many  toxins such as lead, pesticides or bacterial contamination in ocean waters through monitoring and education programs. The Web site is a one-stop information resource intended to raise awareness about potential hazards and offer solutions to help minimize those risks, according to Leiker.


Environmental toxicology is one of many public health programs within DHS that focus on prevention and helping people manage their health so they can be as productive and healthy as possible.