Maryland has made great strides in reducing lead paint poisoning among children and in improving the outdoor air they breathe, but more needs to be done to keep track of other environmental hazards and their links to kids' health, according to a report released yesterday by state health and environment officials.
While pointing to previously reported decreases in the number of children with lead poisoning and an equally significant drop in ozone levels in Maryland, officials said they plan to better keep track of issues such as pesticide levels in children, their exposure to pharmaceuticals in water and where serious asthma cases are most concentrated.
The report, "Maryland's Children and the Environment," is intended to be the beginning of a regular effort to catalog and present data on children's environmental health to be used to set priorities and measure progress.
Meanwhile, officials said efforts must be made to address racial and geographical disparities in exposures to environmental toxins.
Some of the information is out there, state Health Secretary John M. Colmers said, while some will take more work to gather. If officials had more systemic data on exposures to different hazards, they might have more success in determining whether diseases like asthma or neurodevelopmental disorders are related to environmental exposures.
"It's connecting the dots," Colmers said. "In the case of children, environmental hazards early in life can have profound effects on their development." If authorities don't fully understand how these problems affect children, "we all pay for that," he said.
One example is mercury, which is found in fish. It is known to be toxic, but what level - if any - may be safe isn't as clear, said Dr. Lorne Garretson, a retired pediatric toxicologist and a member of the Maryland Children's Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council.
"We live in a complex environment," he said. " 'Better living through chemistry' is a delight to us all, but it's a challenge," he said - especially when there are "adverse effects of things we like to live with."