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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Research and Development
National Center for Environmental Research
Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program


Children’s Vulnerability to Toxic Substances in the Environment

Opening Date: November 26, 2001
Closing Date: February 28, 2002

Specific Areas of Interest
Standard Instructions for Submitting an Application

Access Standard STAR Forms and Instructions  (http://www.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/forms/index.html)
View NCER Research Capsules  (http://www.epa.gov/ncer/publications/topical/)
View research awarded under previous solicitations  (http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/research.search/rpt/abs/type/3)


Program Title: Children’s Vulnerability to Toxic Substances in the Environment

Synopsis of Program:  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development is seeking applications for research on  children’s vulnerabilities to toxic substances in the environment.  Children may be affected by environmental contaminants in ways that adults are not, both because their exposures may be higher and because they may be more vulnerable to the toxic effects of the contaminants.  Research on children’s environmental health risks is needed to fill data gaps  in order to improve the understanding of when, how, and why children respond differently from adults to toxic agents, in order to develop effective approaches to reduce risks.

Contact Person: Kacee Deener Phone: 202-564-8289  E-mail: deener.kathleen@epa.gov

Applicable Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number(s): 66.500

Eligibility Information: See full announcement for eligibility information.

Award Information:

Anticipated Type of Award: Grant
Estimated Number of Awards: Approximately 4 - 6
Anticipated Funding Amount: Approximately $3 million
Potential Funding per Grant per Year: $150,000 to $250,000 per year for a total of up to three years
Sorting Code:   2002-STAR-D1.

Deadline/Target Dates
Letter of Intent Due Date(s): None
Application Proposal Due Date(s): No later than 4:00 p.m. ET, February 28, 2002


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Research and Development (ORD), National Center for Environmental Research (NCER), as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, is seeking grant applications for research on children’s vulnerability to toxic substances in the environment.  Some research questions of interest are:

1) How do children differ from adults in their response to environmental agents?

2) What are the critical periods of development when exposure to environmental substances can cause adverse health effects?

3) What are the relationships between children’s exposures and adverse health effects observed in childhood or later?

4) How can laboratory and human data be used to predict responses to childhood exposures?1

Health endpoints of most concern are cancer, neurotoxicity, immune system effects, asthma and other respiratory effects, reproductive effects, and developmental effects, including birth defects.  This RFA invites applications for research regarding children’s vulnerability to toxic substances in the environment.


Over the past several years, concerns have been raised over apparent increases in the rates of some diseases in children that may be caused by environmental exposures.  For example:

  • The self-reported prevalence of asthma among children in America increased 75 percent between 1980 and 1994.  The total percentage of children diagnosed with asthma increased from 5.8 percent in 1990 to 7.5 percent by 1995.2 

  • Some scientific evidence suggests that the development of allergies, including asthma, may be directly related to interactions between environmental pollutants and the immature immune system.3

  • The frequency of childhood cancer has also increased, with rates increasing from 130 cases per million children in 1975 to 150 cases per million in 1995.2  This may be related to environmental exposures, but for the most part, scientists know little about the role that environmental carcinogens play in the development of childhood cancer.4

  • Developmental and neurological deficits related to exposure to toxic substances are also a major concern.  According to the National Environmental Trust, the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that environmental factors, working in combination with a genetic predisposition, can cause approximately 25% of all developmental and neurological deficits.5
In response to the growing body of scientific evidence over the past several years, public attention has increasingly focused on the disproportionate risks that children may face as a result of exposures to environmental contaminants in their food, water, home, and play or school environments.  Public health officials and physicians have been asked to assess the significance of the many risks to children.  In 1995, the EPA was directed to consider environmental health risks to infants and children in all risk characterizations and public health standards set for the United States.6  Since then, EPA has followed the National Agenda to Protect Children’s Health from Environmental Threats (http://www.epa.gov/epadocs/child.htm#agenda), and is committed to promoting a safe and healthy environment for children by ensuring that all EPA regulations, standards, policies, and risk assessments consider children’s special vulnerabilities to environmental pollutants. In 1996, two laws were enacted - the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments (SDWAA) - that require consideration of infants and children in risk assessments used to determine acceptable levels of environmental contaminants in food and drinking water.  Additionally, a Federal Executive Order of April 1997, “Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks”, charges agencies to consider environmental risks to children related to their activities.

ORD has developed a Strategy for Research on Environmental Risks to Children (2000; http://www.epa.gov/ncea/pdfs/childsafety/FR_ChildRisk.pdf).  This strategy, developed by a team of scientists from ORD and other EPA offices, sets forth ORD’s vision, mission, and long-term research goals for children’s health.  Included in this document are the identification of major research questions, a compilation of health endpoints of most concern, and a set of research priorities for ORD’s intramural and extramural research programs.  Health endpoints of most concern for children have been identified as: asthma and other respiratory diseases; childhood cancers; adult onset of cancers that are related to exposure events early in life; immune system effects; neurotoxicity; and developmental effects.  Environmental agents of particular interest to the EPA are: indoor and outdoor air pollution; pesticides; environmental tobacco smoke; mixtures of pollutants; endocrine disrupting chemicals; and other specific compounds believed to have adverse health effects.  Finally, as discussed in the research strategy, a core group of research priorities have been established:

  • Development of data to reduce uncertainties in risk assessment, including mode-of-action research and epidemiological and clinical studies.

  • Development of risk assessment methods and models, including dose-response relationships in children and the use of exposure data in risk assessments for children.

  • Experimental methods development, including mode-of-action research and methods for extrapolating from animals to children.

  • Cross-cutting research such as investigation of variation in human susceptibility and cumulative risk research.

EPA recognizes that children may be affected by environmental contaminants in a different way than adults, both because they are more highly exposed and because they may be more vulnerable to the toxic effects of the contaminants.  As such, they represent a unique sub-population when addressing environmental health risks.  The National Research Council, after a detailed analysis of available data, has recognized that this special susceptibility is based on the following factors.7

  • Children have greater exposures to environmental toxicants than adults.  Relative to their size, children drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air than adults, and consequently may be exposed to relatively higher amounts of contaminants.  For example, the air intake of a resting infant is double that of an adult per pound of body weight.  Behavioral characteristics of children, such as hand-to-mouth activity and playing on the ground, may also increase their exposure.

  • Children’s metabolic pathways are immature compared with those of adults.  This is true especially in the first months after birth, and includes the ability to metabolize, detoxify and excrete  toxicants.

  • Children grow and develop very rapidly, and consequently their developmental processes are easily disrupted.  Many organ systems undergo extensive growth and development during pregnancy and throughout the first years of life.  Many of these developing systems are not well adapted to repairing damage caused by environmental  toxicants, and the resulting dysfunctions may be irreversible.

  • Because children have more future years of life than adults, they have more time to develop chronic diseases that may be triggered by early life exposures.  Many diseases triggered by environmental toxicants require many years to develop.  Toxic exposure early in life, such as in the prenatal and early postnatal periods, appear more likely to lead to disease than do exposures later in life.

While some information regarding children’s vulnerability to toxic substances is known, many of areas of uncertainty still remain.  EPA will support research on novel methods and approaches for studying the susceptibility of children to environmental  toxicants. Proposals that are responsive to this RFA will incorporate information on biological and physiological characteristics of different age groups, the variability within particular age groups, and the mechanistic basis for increased susceptibility of children to the adverse health effects of environmental contaminants, including adverse health events later in life. Of particular interest are approaches that will provide a better understanding of these and other factors that may contribute to increased susceptibility in children for adverse health outcomes such as cancer, compromised immune function, and/or non-cancer effects.  Examples of this type of research are listed below; however, this list is not exclusive:

  • Research that examines, at the cellular and molecular levels, the biological basis of age-related differences in target organ development, absorption, metabolic pathways, detoxification, repair, and compensation.  Application of advances in genomics and/or proteomics should be considered.

  • Research on early life exposures that may lead and/or contribute to diseases such as cancer, allergies, or  immunologic disease, either during childhood or later in life, and the mechanisms responsible for these outcomes.

  • The development of animal models to help elucidate the unique modes of action of susceptibilities of children to adverse health effects resulting from exposure to  environmental agents.

  • Development of methods and models for extrapolating from animal studies to children, including the development of physiologically-based toxicokinetic models and/or biologically-based dose-response models for the maternal-fetal unit as well as for post-natal development.
NOTE: Proposals focusing exclusively on lead poisoning in children will be considered non-responsive to this RFA.


1. Strategy for Research on Environmental Risks to Children, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, August 2000.

2. America's Children and the Environment: A First View of Available Measures, The United States Environmental Protection Agency, December 2000, EPA 240-R-00-006.

3. Programming for Responsiveness to Environmental Antigens That Trigger Allergic Respiratory Disease in Adulthood Is Initiated during the Perinatal Period; Patrick G. Holt, Environmental Health Perspectives 106, Supplement 3, June 1998.

4. Chemicals and Children's Environment: What We Don't Know about Risks; Lynn R. Goldman, Environmental Health Perspectives 106, Supplement 3, June 1998.

5. Polluting Our Future: Chemical Pollution in the U.S. that Affects Child Development and Learning; National Environmental Trust, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Learning Disabilities Association of America, September 2000.

6. Office of Children's Health Protection website,  "Our History",  http://www.epa.gov/children/whowe/history.htm

7. Children's Health and the Environment:  A New Agenda for Prevention Research, Philip J. Landrigan, et. al., Environmental Health Perspectives 106, Supplement 3, June 1998.


It is anticipated that approximately $3.0 million will be awarded for this RFA.  The projected award range is $150,000 to $250,000 (total costs) per year for up to three years.


Academic and not-for-profit institutions located in the U.S., and state or local governments, are eligible under all existing authorizations. Profit-making firms are not eligible to receive grants from EPA under this program.  Federal agencies and national laboratories funded by federal agencies (Federally-funded Research and Development Centers, FFRDCs) may not apply.

Federal employees are not eligible to serve in a principal leadership role on a grant. FFRDC employees may cooperate or collaborate with eligible applicants within the limits imposed by applicable legislation and regulations.  They may participate in planning, conducting, and analyzing the research directed by the principal investigator, but may not direct projects on behalf of the applicant organization or principal investigator.  The principal investigator's institution may provide funds through its grant from EPA to a FFRDC for research personnel, supplies, equipment, and other expenses directly related to the research.  However, salaries for permanent FFRDC employees may not be provided through this mechanism.

Federal employees may not receive salaries or in other ways augment their agency's appropriations through grants made by this program.  However, federal employees may interact with grantees so long as their involvement is not essential to achieving the basic goals of the grant.* The principal investigator's institution may also enter into an agreement with a federal agency to purchase or utilize unique supplies or services unavailable in the private sector. Examples are purchase of satellite data, census data tapes, chemical reference standards, analyses, or use of instrumentation or other facilities not available elsewhere, etc.  A written justification for federal involvement must be included in the application, along with an assurance from the federal agency involved which commits it to supply the specified service.

*EPA encourages interaction between its own laboratory scientists and grant principal investigators for the sole purpose of exchanging information in research areas of common interest that may add value to their respective research activities. However, this interaction must be incidental to achieving the goals of the research under a grant. Interaction that is incidental is not reflected in a research proposal and involves no resource commitments.

Potential applicants who are uncertain of their eligibility should contact Jack Puzak in NCER, phone (202) 564-6825, email: puzak.jack@epa.gov.


A set of special instructions on how applicants should apply for an NCER grant is found on the NCER web site, http://www.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/forms/index.html, Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application. The necessary forms for submitting an application will be found on this web site.


The need for a sorting code to be used in the application and for mailing is described in the Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application. The sorting code for applications submitted in response to this solicitation is  2002-STAR-D1.  The deadline for receipt of applications by NCER is no later than 4:00 p.m. ET, February 28, 2002.


Further information, if needed, may be obtained from the EPA official indicated below. Email inquiries are preferred.

Kacee Deener

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