Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units: Creating a Better Environment for Children

PEHSU LogoFor the past 15 years, Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs) have been advocating in communities around the country to educate people about children’s environmental health.  As a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) these centers employ health care professionals who are devoted to informing and assisting communities in understanding the role that the environment plays in childhood health outcomes. PEHSUs are committed to protecting this vulnerable age group from the harmful effects of environmental hazards and toxic substances, with a focus on reproductive health in an effort to prevent the detrimental effects of certain exposures very early in development.

The Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is one of the PEHSUs that is responsible for providing services to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin (Region 5) along with a unit in Cincinnati, Ohio . The UIC center strives to:

  • Work with communities and parents to teach, support, and interpret results of environmental hazards
  • Provide clinical services for children with environmental health issues
  • Provide technical assistance to public health and environmental agencies on children’s environmental health issues
  • Train pediatricians, environmental and occupational medicine physicians, medical toxicologists, and other health professionals about children’s environmental health
  • Conduct research that helps prevent children’s environmental diseases

The center is under the direction of Dr. Susan Buchanan who focuses on environmental and occupational medicine, and is a Clinical Associate Professor as well as the Director of the Occupational Medicine Residency Program at UIC. Besides pediatric and reproductive environmental health, her research interests include health outcomes of minority, low-income, and immigrant workers. The center is also staffed by a variety of health care professionals including environmental/occupational physicians, pediatric/family physicians, medical toxicologists, pediatric health nurses, and industrial hygienists. The center recently added a reproductive health care professional which has greatly improved the outreach to pregnant women who are at risk for environmental exposures negatively affecting their unborn children.

The staff educates and consults with communities and parents on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, second-hand tobacco smoke, air/water/soil contamination, heavy metal exposures, pollutants, allergens, and pesticides, among many more. Annually, the center reaches 6000-7000 attendees at 75-100 presentations with additional consultation through 150-200 individual phone calls. Through their work they are creating a better environment for young children and their communities.

For more information about the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health at UIC you can visit their website at http://www.uic.edu/sph/glakes/childrenshealth/.