Science Group Sounds the Alarm: Attacks on Science Put a Generation of Children at Risk

Rollbacks of Protection, Enforcement Expose Young People to Both Immediate and Long-Term Harm

Published Feb 11, 2020

WASHINGTON (February 11, 2020)—When the federal government ignores, sidelines or undermines science, it has severe consequences for children—consequences that can last a lifetime. As the Trump administration has undercut science and rolled back science-based policies, it has put a generation of children at greater risk, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

In a new report, “Endangering Generations: How the Trump Administration’s Assault on Science Is Harming Children’s Health,” UCS experts have catalogued a wide range of policy changes that specifically undermine the health and safety of children. UCS is also illustrating these harms with a new storybook, “Breathe In the Smog, Drink In the Lead: A Grim Scary Tale for People Who Care about Kids.” These two publications tell the story of how dramatically the Trump administration has abandoned the mission of protecting children based on the best evidence.

“The total impact of these policy changes is staggering,” said Genna Reed, lead science and policy analyst at the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS and lead author of the report. “All across the country, children are being exposed to both immediate health risks and long-term dangers that could set them back for life. Parents, like me, want to be able to protect their kids, and we should be able to trust that the federal government is making smart decisions about their health and safety. The health of our country’s children should come first, but the Trump administration is placing political and financial interests ahead of the needs of future generations.”

The report has new analyses that demonstrate the harms posed to children by the Trump administration’s rollbacks:

  • Lead is a potent neurotoxin, which causes irreversible damage to children’s brains and nervous systems. Despite the fact that scientists who study lead exposure have found there is no safe level for lead exposure, the administration has stymied efforts to reduce childhood exposure, including by cutting in half the number of lead water service systems that must be replaced.
  • Nearly 3 million children attend school or childcare facilities within five miles of sites contaminated by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a dangerous carcinogen that can cause additional problems for children, including reducing vaccine effectiveness, increasing asthma risk, and damaging kidney functions. The administration tried to bury evidence of PFAS risks and has failed to take adequate action to protect affected communities.
  • Nearly 2 million children under age five could face exposure to the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the administration decided to keep on the market despite ample evidence showing its can permanently harm children’s developing brains.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission has decreased enforcement actions and eliminated a team tasked with identifying defective children’s products. As a result, recalls of children’s products are at their lowest level in a decade and fines for corporate misconduct have dropped by half.
  • Weaker air-pollution rules could expose children to higher levels of contaminants, including fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone, resulting in hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, respiratory illness and missed school days.
  • Changes to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program could mean the end of food assistance for millions of children in low-income households, undermining children’s health, educational success and future economic prospects.

“When our leaders are making policies without thinking about the well-being of their youngest and most vulnerable constituents, the consequences are severe,” said Jonah Gottlieb, a 17-year-old activist and the co-founder and executive youth director of the National Children’s Campaign. “This new report and the book ‘Breathe In the Smog, Drink In the Lead’ are extremely timely—they paint a disturbing picture of the realities facing millions of children across America. But they also serve as a reminder that we, the people, hold power in this country, and if we value the lives of our children, so should our elected officials. That's why so many young people have taken to the streets and organized--because we understand that young lives are at risk, and that the 74 million children under 18 in this country deserve to grow up safe and healthy.”

The report and the book identify a number of other risks to children’s health exacerbated by the administration’s policies, including reduced federal meat inspections, the failure to take strong action against lead and asbestos contamination, child detention and family separation at the border, and policies that accelerate the risks of climate change.

“As a scientist and parent, I’m appalled by the way the administration has willfully ignored the evidence and refused to act to protect the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy. “Children face a unique risk from pollution and public health threats—they’re more susceptible to the harms and the damage can last a lifetime. Federal agencies should listen to the science and act in the public interest—especially when it comes to making sure kids can lead healthy lives.”