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August 9, 2021

EPA Funding for Early Childhood Developmental Health Research Will Include Focus on Chemical Exposures

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on July 27, 2021, that it will provide $3.8 million in funding to create two EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Centers for Early Lifestage Vulnerabilities to Environmental Stressors. The centers will focus on early lifestage exposures to chemicals and non-chemical environmental stressors and how these exposures may impact early childhood developmental health. EPA states that scientific research suggests that exposures to pollutants and non-chemical stressors during early lifestages may be crucial determinants of lifetime health. Exposures to cumulative mixtures of chemicals, along with other stressors, such as poverty, limited access to services, and changing environmental conditions, may pose developmental and lifelong health risks. According to EPA, accurate and comprehensive assessments of cumulative impacts are needed to make sound decisions regarding risk reduction, mitigation, and prevention measures. Each center will focus on two individual research projects:

  • Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina:
    • Evaluating the Causal Impacts of Early Life Chemical Exposures on Neurodevelopmental Functioning in Early Childhood — Researchers will identify the occurrences and types of chemicals found in toddlers’ caregiving environments and evaluate how these cumulative chemical exposures are associated with neurodevelopmental functioning in early childhood; and
    • Investigating Whether the Caregiving Environment Moderates the Impact of Early Life Chemical Exposures on Neurodevelopmental Functioning in Early Childhood — Researchers will investigate whether home caregiving environments alter the impacts of early life chemical exposures on neurodevelopmental outcomes in early childhood.
  • University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina:
    • Early Life Exposure and Neurobehavioral Development — Researchers will leverage an ongoing, longitudinal study of normative brain development, the UNC Baby Connectome Study, to examine the role that early life exposure to phthalates and other chemicals plays in early childhood behavior, memory, language and motor development, and social cognition; and
    • Neural Substrates of Prenatal and Early Life Neurotoxicity Using Non-Invasive Imaging Methods — Researchers will work to improve the understanding of the relationships between prenatal and early life exposures and structural and functional brain development, particularly in the third trimester of pregnancy, an important time for brain development.