New York, N.Y. – Oct. 24, 2008 : Four officials from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene were honored today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a ceremony in Washington D.C. for protecting children from environmental risks. The city health officials were among only 12 organizations or groups of individuals selected from across the country to receive EPA’s Children’s Environmental Health Champion award for leadership and commitment in protecting children.
The Children’s Environmental Health Champion awards are designed to recognize ongoing and sustainable dedication to, and notable leadership in, protecting children from environmental health risks at the local, regional, national and international level. The four Individuals from the Bureau of Environmental Surveillance and Policy at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene were honored for their ground-breaking work in identifying high blood-mercury levels in adult New Yorkers, leading to a national focus on fish consumption by women of child-bearing age and their children.
“We are very proud of the outstanding work these individuals have contributed to protecting the health of kids in New York City,” said EPA Regional Administrator, Alan J. Steinberg. “Mercury contamination can cause serious problems, especially in young children. Their work is particularly significant on a local level, and is pertinent on a national level as well.”
Assistant Commissioner Dan Kass, Epidemiologist Wendy McKelvey, Research Scientist Nancy Loder Jeffery, and Caroline Bragdon of the Bureau of Environmental Surveillance & Policy at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene were all honored today for their work to reduce children’s exposure to mercury through fish. The researchers found that New Yorkers have over three times the national average blood mercury levels. The most common source of mercury in adults is through food, particularly fish. They used this information to reach out to women of child-bearing age and women with young children to give them practical advice on which fish is best to eat, based on their mercury content. The health officials spearheaded fish sampling in Chinese retail stores to ground truth their information on mercury levels in different kinds of fish. The New York City work has contributed to the growing national focus on fish consumption by women of child-bearing age and their children, especially among certain ethnic groups for which fish is a significant aspect of the diet.
“We thank the EPA for recognizing the Health Department’s work, and we are pleased that they are taking action based on these findings,” said Dan Kass, Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Surveillance and Policy at the New York City Health Department. “The good news is that pregnant women and nursing mothers can keep their and their children’s mercury levels low by choosing the right fish, in the right amounts.”
Other accomplishments applauded at today’s event include: reducing the number of migrant workers and their children who are exposed to environmental hazards in Virginia; addressing the threat of lab chemicals in Nebraska high schools; and building capacity to protect children from environmental hazards in tribal communities. EPA is also recognizing a national and international champion in 2008. Dr. Melanie Marty, Chief, Air Toxicology and Epidemiology Branch Cal/EPA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has been instrumental in making California a leader in raising awareness about environmental health risks to children. Dr. Jenny Pronczuk de Garbino, Pediatrician, Medical Officer, and Toxicologist with the World Health Organization, has provided the world with crucial information about the environmental influences on children’s health in developing countries.