Report: Michigan kids have higher cancer, asthma rates than national average

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Children in Michigan are facing higher rates of asthma and pediatric cancer than the national average, according to a new report from the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN).

The fact sheet was released Monday morning following a telephone press conference hosted by CEHN Executive Director Nsedu Witherspoon. CEHN is a national nonprofit that advocates for environmental protections that benefit children’s health.

Monday’s report highlights how Michigan is doing, compared to the national average, on eight key children’s environmental health indicators, including safe drinking water, air quality, warming temperatures, toxic chemical releases, neuro-developmental disorders, asthma, pediatric cancer and blood lead levels. These measures can be used to assess environmental hazards and their health effects on children.

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“Our aim is to ensure that all children are protected, and that no child should have an elevated level of harmful chemicals known to alter their health and development and wellbeing,” Witherspoon said.

Michigan stands out in terms of childhood rates pediatric cancer and asthma. According to CEHN, Michigan has 184.8 cases of pediatric cancer per 1 million, compared to 181 cases per 1 million nationwide. And 8.3% of Michigan children under the age of 18 have asthma, compared to 7.5% nationwide.

One of the more positive statistics in the report concluded that Michigan’s public water utilities had fewer drinking water violations in 2018 (25%) than the national average (34%). The statistic, however, does not account for the actual numbers of violations total or per utility; only the percentage of the state’s public water utilities that were hit with any number of drinking water violations that year.

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In terms of neuro-developmental disorders, children in Michigan have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder/attention deficit disorder (ADHD/ADD) at a higher rate than the national average (10.2% compared to 8.8% nationwide). Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnoses are exactly on par with the national average at 2.8% of children.

The report also notes that 92.7 million lbs. of toxic chemicals were disposed of or released in Michigan in 2017, and that 1.5 million children younger than age 18 live in counties with unhealthy ozone pollution as of this year.

Given that the Flint water crisis, it’s somewhat surprising that Michigan is cited as having a lower percentage of children younger than 6 who tested for elevated blood lead levels. The data provided for that statistic is from 2016, however, so it is unclear whether that percentage has improved since then.

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The report acknowledged that Michigan has the most per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-contaminated water sites in the country, but pointed to the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) as a great help in reducing exposure to the contamination. In the teleconference, Witherspoon emphasized that federal help following the Flint water crisis has been a huge asset in these areas of concern.

“Some of this was stimulated by the Flint water crisis and a lot of attention placed on Michigan for water and lead, among other environmental issues,” Witherspoon said. “And it did take a while for some of this federal support to come in, but it is in now — and obviously, Michigan is not out of the woods yet by any means. But these trajectories are, I think, quite positive. … Michigan is on the right trajectory.”

The new fact sheet is one of three state profiles released today. The CEHN is aiming to issue profiles of children’s environmental health indicators in all 50 states eventually, as part of its efforts to build a regularly updated national database that can be used to check progress among states.