Daily News Archive
From July 13, 2005

Exposure To Environmental Toxins Costs Billions In Healthcare
(Beyond Pesticides, July 13, 2005)
Environmental toxins cost the state of Washington billions of dollars in health care costs every year, according to new findings released in an interview by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer with Kate Davies, Ph.D, professor of Environment and Community at Antioch University Seattle's Center for Creative Change. The Antioch University study shows that environmental contaminants cause $1.6 to $2.2 billion in direct and indirect costs in Washington State for childhood conditions such as asthma, cancer, lead exposure, birth defects and neurobehavioral disorders. Adult conditions, including asthma, heart disease, and cancer, cause $2.8 billion to $3.5 billion yearly.

According to Dr. Davies, the environmental health costs associated with children's conditions is roughly .7 percent of the state gross national product, while environmental health costs for adults equates to 1 percent of the local annual GNP. Funding programs that reduce health-care costs associated with environmental toxins means the state GNP would increase nearly 2 percent.

The study will be released today to coincide with public hearings about "persistent bioaccumulative toxic substances," or PBTs. Dr. Davies hopes the numbers will catch the attention of state legislators and Department of Ecology officials attending the hearings who will be writing a draft rule on PBTs.

"It is important for environmentalists to use economic arguments to control toxic chemicals," notes Dr. Davies. "Of course, monetary valuations of diseases and disabilities are only part of the picture. They do not take account of people's suffering or the emotional costs to families and friends. "But whether we like it or not, legislators are heavily influenced by economic arguments. It is important for environmentalists to speak this language.”

"This is exactly the sort of evidence we need to present to legislators as they develop new regulations for environmental toxins," said Elise Miller, director of the Institute for Children's Environmental Health based in Freeland.

Dr. Davies' new study is based on an "environmentally attributable fraction" model that estimates proportions of each disease or disability that can conservatively be linked to exposure to environmental toxins. This new research is part of a national trend to track health-care costs related to environmental factors. A 2002 study by scientists at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York found that Americans pay more than $54 billion annually for pediatric diseases linked to environmental toxins, including lead poisoning, asthma, childhood cancer, and developmental disabilities. The total, 2.8 percent of all U.S. healthcare costs, is more than Americans spend on military research, veterans’ benefits and health care costs of strokes.