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The high cost of pollution on kids' health

Toxic chemicals and air pollution cause big, expensive health problems for U.S. children. How expensive? The bill was $76.6 billion in 2008, says a recent study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

That estimate encompasses the cost of treating a group of so-called "environmentally-mediated diseases," which include lead poisoning, prenatal methylmercury exposure, childhood cancer, asthma, intellectual disability, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The authors' goal was to update a 2002 study intended to give policymakers the data to motivate stronger legislative controls against pollutants that have been linked with childhood health problems.

But, as the authors say, not much has changed on the policy front since the initial study:

In the years since that analysis was completed, legislative efforts have failed to update the 1973 Toxic Substances Control Act to require that chemicals be tested for their toxicity, especially in children and other vulnerable populations, before they are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for widespread use. The result is that newly produced chemicals lead to health effects that gain little attention, until studies identify the impact and drive regulatory action that leads to limits on their ongoing use. Many companies have committed to helping fill toxicity testing gaps for chemicals produced in the largest volumes. However, in six years the EPA has completed reviews of only six chemicals through its Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program.

Over at Grist, a commentary on this study points out that investors are beginning to take notice of the need for cleaner technologies, including those that could potentially prevent costly pollution-related health problems in children. But, perhaps because of our lax regulatory structure in the U.S., these investors are spending their money elsewhere:

Venture capitalists increased cleantech spending in the first quarter of 2011 some 54 percent over the same period last year. But the U.S. fell to 17th on a list of the top 38 cleantech investment nations for all types of capital -- China is first, followed closely by Denmark, Germany, Brazil, and Lithuania. Yes, the U.S. is behind Lithuania in a race we can't afford to lose.

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