EPA Awards Nearly $4M to Create Research Centers in North Carolina for Early Childhood Developmental Health
RALEIGH (July 27, 2021) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $3.8 million in funding to create two EPA STAR (Science to Achieve Results) Centers for Early Lifestage Vulnerabilities to Environmental Stressors. The new Centers will focus on early lifestage exposures to chemicals and non-chemical environmental stressors and how these exposures may impact early childhood developmental health.
"Protecting children's health is one of EPA's top priorities," said Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development and EPA Science Advisor. “For more than twenty years, EPA has supported research to investigate new frontiers in the field of children’s environmental health. The centers announced today are a testament to our continued support for pioneering research in this realm.”
"EPA is very excited to advance this children’s health research that will help protect our children,” said Acting Region 4 Administrator John Blevins. “This EPA-funded research will further our understanding of environmental stressors and potential impacts on early childhood developmental health.”
“We are elated to receive this grant focused on how environmental exposures and early caregiving affect neurodevelopment for preschoolers,” said Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, a senior environmental health scientist at RTI International and Principal Investigator. “Working with community partners, child care centers, parents, and the NC Central Health Equity, Environment and Population Health (HOPE) program, we plan to study the dual exposome and caregiving environment of toddlers that attend child care centers using non-invasive multimedia sampling and developmental assessments.”
“The brain is rapidly developing during the first years of life. At the same time, young children are disproportionately exposed to a range of chemicals that may have neurodevelopmental consequences, “said Dr. Stephanie Engel, Director of the UNC Center for Early Life Exposures and Neurotoxicity (UNC CLEAN). “Our center will fill critical gaps in knowledge on the landscape of early life toxicant exposures in these earliest windows of development and examine their relationships with brain growth and development.”
Scientific research suggests that exposures to pollutants and non-chemical stressors during early lifestages (including before birth) 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 life-long health risks. Accurate and comprehensive assessments of cumulative impacts are needed to make sound decisions regarding risk reduction, mitigation, and prevention measures.
The new Centers for Early Lifestage Vulnerabilities to Environmental Stressors will each focus on two individual research projects. The following institutions are receiving the awards through EPA’s STAR program:
Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International, Research Triangle Park, N.C., for the following projects:
- 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 toddler’s caregiving environments and evaluate how these cumulative chemical exposures are associated with neurodevelopmental functioning in early childhood.
- 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 at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C., for the following projects:
- 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.
- Neural Substrates of Prenatal and Early Life Neurotoxicity Using Non-Invasive Imaging Methods – Researchers will work to improve our understanding of the relationships between early life exposures and trajectories of structural and functional brain development, using non-invasive imaging approaches.
Background on EPA’s STAR Program
EPA’s STAR program stimulates and supports scientific and engineering research that advances EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. It is a competitive, peer reviewed, extramural research program that provides access to the nation’s best scientists and engineers in academic and other nonprofit research institutions. The STAR program funds research on the environmental and public health effects of air quality, environmental changes, water quality and quantity, hazardous waste, toxic substances, and pesticides.
For more information about these grants, visit: https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/recipients.display/rfa_id/669/records_per_page/ALL
For more information about EPA research grants, visit: https://www.epa.gov/research-grants