Raising Healthy Children

The Newsletter of the Children's Environmental Health Center                  January 2012 

Our Mission: Protecting Children Against Environmental Threats to Health

Dr. Landrigan

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan

Director, CEHC
In This Issue
NEXT MEETING: Fracking and Children's Health
About the CEHC
Dear Friends of the Children's Environmental Health Center:

Happy New Year from our team at CEHC!


Our January issue highlights a new paper that found phthalates in the coatings of everyday drugs and supplements.  This paper was written by our colleague Dr. Russ Hauser of Harvard, who spent time as a visiting professor in our department in 2011.  Read on to see team member Dr. Shanna Swan's comments on these findings. 


We also share a new paper on the top environmental hazards at our children's school.  This paper, written by CEHC fellows, shows teachers, parents, and school administrators how to identify and prevent these hazards.  We urge you to read this short paper and  share these simple tips with your school administration.   


On behalf of our team, I wish you a healthy 2012!




Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc

Director, Children's Environmental Health Center

Mount Sinai School of Medicine

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Toxic Chemicals in Our Pills?
New research shows that a large number of drugs and supplements contain phthalates.     

A new study published by researchers at Harvard University and Boston University revealed that many common drugs and supplements contain the chemical phthalates.  This toxin, also commonly found in plastics, is a man-made chemical linked to hormonal imbalances, reproductive problems, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

To measure levels of phthalates, the team tested between 500 and 1000 medications and supplements, both prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs.  They found phthalates in the coating of pill capsules, as the chemical is used to regulate the release of medication over time and deliver active ingredients to specific areas of the digestive tract.  The chemical was found in a variety of products -- including blood pressure medications, laxatives, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, muscle relaxers, dietary supplements, and acid-reducers. 

Specifically, the team found two types of phthalates in pill coatings -- diputyl phthalate (DBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP) Both types are reported to affect the male reproductive system, leading to hormonal, fertility, and reproductive problems.

It is too early to determine the health risks of phthalates in pills, CEHC's Dr. Shanna Swan told Discovery News.  However, Dr. Swan advises pregnant women who take regular medications to avoid phthalate-coated pills.  To avoid these medications, look for words that signal that the medication may contain phthalates, including: 

  • "Delayed-release"   
  • "Controlled-release"
  • "Time-release"
  • "Targeted-release"
  • "Enteric coatings"  

To learn more about this new study, download the paper or read Dr. Swan's comments in Discovery News.
What are the Top Environmental Hazards in our Children's Schools?
CEHC answers this question in American Educator.

We know that there are many environmental hazards in our homes, but what are the top threats at our children's schools?  CEHC Director Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, along with CEHC fellows Dr. Kevin Chatham-Stephens, Dr. Mana Mann, and Dr. Andrea Wershof Schwartz answer this question in the winter issue of American Educator.  The team identifies the most common environmental problems in the school setting.  They include:

Lead.  A heavy metal known to be toxic to children, even at low doses.  In school, the toxin can be found in deteriorating lead paint, lead-contaminated dust and soil, art supplies that contain lead, and lead-lined water pipes.


Pesticides.  Including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and disinfectants.  In schools, pesticides can be found on lawns, in playgrounds, or in fruits and vegetables consumed by children. 


Mercury. Occurring naturally in coal and petroleum, this toxin enters the environment when fuels are burned.  In schools, mercury can be found in lab equipment, thermometers, thermostats, batteries, and fluorescent light bulbs.   


Arsenic.  This toxin occurs naturally in the earth's crust.  In the school setting, the most common source of exposure is in playgrounds made from wood treated with arsenic.  


Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution.  Schools located near areas of high traffic pollution, factories, smelters, and power plants have higher levels of outdoor air pollution.  Small sources include proximity to dry cleaners and degreasing operations.  Schools in old, ill-maintained buildings are at risk for poor indoor air quality.  Other indoor air pollutants include formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), found in paints, lacquers, and paint strippers. 


Mold.  This natural fungi can grow in any room of any type of building, including schools with too much moisture or inadequate ventilation. 


Asbestos. This carcinogenic chemical was used in school construction from the 1950s to the 1980s, specifically in boiler wraps, ceiling tiles, dry wall, floor tiles, and in insulation surrounding pipes.  Fortunately, asbestos poses no threat to health if it remains in place.  However, if asbestos is disturbed or fractured, fibers are released into the air.  When these fibers are inhaled, the effects are toxic. 


Radon.  An odorless, invisible gas that is produced when uranium decays in soil and water, this toxin is found in both indoor and outdoor air.  The EPA reports that more than 70,000 schoolrooms in use today have high short-term radon levels.


Bisphenol-A (BPA) and PhthalatesThese chemicals, which mimic our body's natural hormones,  can be found in plastic water bottles, the linings of food cans, some toys, plastic shower curtains, and personal care products.   Children are exposed when these toxins leach from food packaging or when children put products made with these chemicals in their mouths.


Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs).  Although the EPA banned this chemical in 1978, school buildings constructed or renovated between 1950 and 1978 may still have materials and electrical products that contain PCBs.  Since these chemicals break down very slowly, they remain in the environment for a long period of time.  The main source of PCB exposure is through foods -- meat, fish, and dairy products can contain small amounts.  However, in schools, the major source of PCB exposure is through the use of building materials and electrical products, including fluorescent light ballasts that release PCB-containing dust.

Learn what school administrators can do to reduce these risks.
Green Tip of the Week:
Get Your House Tested for Radon


The EPA has deemed January National Radon Action Month.  Make sure your house has been tested for this odorless, invisible gas.  Buy a radon test kit at your local hardware store or bring in a qualified radon service profession to inspect your home. 

To learn more about radon testing, find a qualified radon service professional, and read other action steps, visit http://www.epa.gov/radon/.


Make sure to check out www.MountSinaiGOCluncheon.org  

for more tips on how to keep your children healthy!  

RSVP for our next meeting!

The next Greening Our Children Meeting is Tuesday, January 24, 2012.


Featuring a presentation by Kevin Chatham-Stephens, MD, 

who will discuss how fracking affects children's health.


10:00am - 12:00pm

Audubon Greenwich
631 Riversville Road,
Greenwich, CT  


Click here to download the flier

Click here to RSVP  


Click here to see photos from our last meeting


Learn more about the event at www.MountSinaiGOCluncheon.org

About the Children's Environmental Health Center 



Formally established in 2007, the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center (CEHC) builds on Dr. Philip J. Landrigan's three decades of work in children's environmental health and fifteen years of research in environmental pediatrics at Mount Sinai. CEHC has established itself as a leading source of scientifically credible information on issues related to children's health and the environment. Our mission is to protect children against environmental threats to health. We do this by guiding, supporting, and building the programs of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. 




In 2010, the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center was designated a Collaborating Centre in Children's Environmental Health by the World Health Organization.