01/07/2009 10:55 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

To the Presidential Candidates....Debate This!

Why should I be surprised by anything when it comes to the Presidential campaigns or the Debates of 2008? When you listen to the media analysis of the two participants and what they did right and wrong, the meaningful content takes a backseat to body language, eye contact and other nonsensical indicators of success or failure.

Yes, there are many very important issues this election year.

Noticeably absent from the primaries and now the presidential debates have been any discussions about America's children. Which you would think might be somewhat important since so many voters have children or grandchildren.

No question, the energy and economic crisis affect us all. There has also been a lot of talk about healthcare in terms of insurance coverage, but precious little talk about health, specifically children's health. Perhaps that's because the state of our children's health is as bad as the economic outlook and the prospects for energy independence. Unfortunately, a big government bailout can't fix this problem even though it has been government inaction that has greatly contributed to the failing health of our nation's most precious resource.

Like the present economic failure, the deterioration of our children's health can be directly linked to loop holes in laws aimed at regulation and has proven disastrous, as childhood diseases and developmental disorders have increased at alarming rates.

The only time I heard any talk of children during the first debate was in the context of sending them off to college. Granted this was supposed to be a debate about foreign policy. Nonetheless, we have a country of sick children and there has been no discussion about this. I am willing to bet there are a lot of mothers like me, you know..."the woman's vote"...that want to know what the next president is going to do for our sick children.

While government officials hyperventilate about the legacy of a vote over financial bad behavior, in large part of their own making, and fret over how this might affect the next generation, they might want to take a moment to think about the abysmal lasting legacy of the health of that generation and what this catastrophe will mean to the nation's economic outlook. Intricately entwined with healthcare costs, education costs, even Medicaid costs, the candidates have been "missing in action" when it comes to a serious discussion about our children and their well-being.

Anticipating the lack of attention always given to children, last April I sent a questionnaire to both Senators McCain and Obama in order to elicit their positions and strategies "to address children's health issues."

Despite numerous calls to both campaign offices, neither has had the courtesy to respond to a few specific questions that are critically important to millions of parents and could garner millions of votes.

The focus for at least one of the debates should concentrate on the future of our world and the well-being of the children that will someday be in charge of this country. Parents want to know what the presidential candidates are going to do for the next generation, many of whom are sick or disabled.

Memo to campaign directors...It's the Kids, Stupid!

You want the woman's vote... tell the women struggling to care for a sick or disabled child what you intend to do to make a difference it their lives. Hello?! There are tens of thousands of women like this in every state.

With just a few weeks until Election Day, there are lots of parents like me who would still like to know where the candidates stand on these issues.

Perhaps a public request will achieve the candidates' attention. So here is the questionnaire sent to Senators McCain and Obama last April. A response would be greatly appreciated.

2008 Presidential Questionnaire

Cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in America's children. Each school day 46 children are diagnosed with cancer. Approximately 2,250 children will die each year from the disease. Since 1975, acute lymphocytic leukemia has increased 68.7%, brain and nervous system cancers in children are up 56%, and testicular cancer in adolescents is up 66%. Instead of going forward, our country is losing the war on childhood cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Agency for Research in Cancer, "80-90% of human cancer is determined environmentally." Despite this recognition, less than 10 per cent of the National Cancer Institute budget is committed to researching environmental causes.

Question 1: What have you done as a senator and what do you intend to do as President to control untested and unregulated industrial chemicals that are contributing to childhood cancer? And what would you do in regard to re-directing more resources into investigating environmental exposures?

In April, The Union of Concerned Scientists will be delivering a report on surveys of government agencies and scientific interference including manipulation, suppression, and censorship as we have recently seen with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) withholding of FEMA/formaldehyde exposures in the trailers offered to Hurricane Katrina victims. Other federal agencies responsible for protecting the health and safety of our children, including the FDA, the EPA and the USDA have been accused of putting children at risk by suppressing or censoring reports on toxic, carcinogen exposures. In 2006, hundreds of EPA scientists registered their concern about industry influence on scientific integrity.

Question 2: What policies and safeguards would you put into place to prevent this type of interference, which has life and death consequences?

In addition to scientific censorship, federal employees and researchers, such as Vioxx whistleblower Dr. David Graham, who come forward to dispute agency reports and suppression of safety concerns, have faced intimidation for raising concerns that later proved to be valid.

Question 3: What will you do to ensure inside agency whistleblowers are protected and encouraged to come forward when safety concerns arise? Would you support criminal prosecution for federal officials shown to have participated in suppression of safety information and the manipulation of scientific studies?

Last year, researchers in the fields of environmental health, environmental chemistry, developmental biology, toxicology, epidemiology, nutrition and pediatrics were brought together to focus on human data and the translation of laboratory results to elucidate the environmental risks to human health. In a paper published it the Journal of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology entitled "The Faroes Statement: Human Health Effects of Developmental Exposure to Chemicals in Our Environment," the experts wrote, "Given the ubiquitous exposure to many environmental chemicals, there needs to be renewed efforts to prevent harm. Healthier solutions should be researched and proposed in future work. Prevention should not await definitive evidence of causality when delays in decision-making would lead to the propagation of toxic exposure and their long-term harmful consequences. Current procedures, therefore, need to be revised to address the need to protect the most vulnerable life stages through greater use of precautionary approaches to exposure reduction."

Question 4: What is your response to the urgency of the Faroes Statement, from the world's leading children's environmental health experts? What specific policies would you support in order to achieve the goal of preventing toxic exposures, particularly for the most vulnerable?

The Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database records less than 10 percent of childhood cancers. The Children's Oncology Group (COG) only keeps data on patients who follow their protocol.

Question 5: What steps would you take to make a centralized national database more reliable in monitoring childhood cancers?

There are approximately 82,000 chemicals in use in the U.S., most of which are not tested for safety. Many of these products are known carcinogens. In the past 30 years since the Toxic Substances Control Act (ToSCA) was passed, the EPA has banned or restricted the use of only 5 chemical substances. Thousands of new chemicals are added to the environment each year without adequate toxicity data.

Question 6: What is your plan to address the failure of our federal agencies to test and regulate chemicals that have not been proven safe for children?

The outdated Standard (white) Male Model (used for over 70+ yrs) has not been changed to a more protective standard for our most vulnerable population, our children. This outdated model continues to allow agencies to accept unacceptable toxic exposure levels that are having devastating impacts on our lives, families and environment. Changing this model would at the least begin to help eliminate some preventable diseases, illnesses and deaths that are on the rise, especially among our children.

Question 7: Why has the outdated male model not been changed to a standard aimed at protecting our most vulnerable population? And what will you do as President to change this current standard?

According to the EPA, 10 million children live within four miles of a toxic Superfund waste site. Authority for the "polluter pays" fees expired in 1995 and the Superfund Trust Fund has been exhausted. Today cleanup costs have shifted from industry to the taxpayers and clean up efforts are no longer a priority.

Question 8: What is you plan for cleaning up Superfund waste sites? Do you believe taxpayers should be responsible for these clean ups?

Question 9: Given the potential short and long-term adverse effects of conventional therapies, do you support the evidence-based use of CAM (complementary and alternative therapies) for childhood cancer?

In 2007, a Harvard study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association focused specifically on children's health. The study found that compared to their parent's generation, "the number of American children with chronic illnesses had quadrupled." The authors concluded, "while genes may play a role in obesity, asthma and ADHD, environmental and social changes are behind the surge." The study also warns physicians and public health officials to prepare for a "wave of chronically ill young adults" whose deteriorating health will lead to "more disability and higher health costs for an entire generation of adults."

Question 10: As President, how do you plan to address this public health crisis?

Serious concerns have been raised about revolving door policies involving drug, chemical and insurance company officials holding positions in government agencies where they have influence about their own products. Ensuring transparency and preventing undue industry influence in government continues to be of enormous concern to the public. In 2005, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that both the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to take the necessary steps to evaluate conflict-of interest in research agreements with the American Chemical Council (ACC). While new FDA guidelines appear to prohibit individuals with conflicts of interest from serving on advisory committees, in reality the FDA advisory committees are under no obligation to follow these guidelines. The guidelines also contain loopholes that would allow the FDA commissioner to grant waivers and permit advisers with significant financial conflicts of interest to serve on committees where they may influence decisions. For example, the FDA's Scientific Advisory Board has numerous representatives who also work for the pharmaceutical industry. Researchers working for the CDC on vaccine safety studies are also receiving substantial funding from the same vaccine manufacturers that they are investigating. Other government agencies also grant similar conflict of interest waivers, which raise questions regarding if such agreements are in the public's best interest.

Question 11: As president, what will you do to eliminate individuals with conflicts of interest from serving on federal regulatory and oversight agency positions?

Many officials seeking elected office promise to do many things in terms of confronting the crisis in health care. In the past 30 years, premature births have increased nearly 31%, asthma rates have more than doubled, the numbers of children with bipolar disorder has increased 40-fold, 4 million children have a neurodevelopmental disorder (ADHD, dyslexia, mental retardation, in addition to autism, which has gone from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 150), childhood obesity has become an epidemic, some male birth defects have more then doubled, testicular cancer has risen 55%, and the United States remains at the bottom of the list among developed nations in terms of infant mortality. Four of the leading diseases of environmental origin in American children - lead poisoning, childhood asthma, neurodevelopmental disabilities and childhood cancer - cost our nation $54.9 billion annually. Mercury pollution alone has been found to cost $8.7 billion annually as a result of lost economic productivity, and an additional 1,566 cases of mental retardation have been associated with mercury pollution.

The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology believes that no national health care program can realize its objectives for the American people without a plan that will focus on prevention and determining the root cause of childhood diseases.

Question 12: In terms of priorities, where would you rank the health of America's children in your first 100 days, compared to other issues? Specifically, what is your plan to reverse these trends? Do you intend to personally attend to children's environmental health issues?

The CDC has found 1 in 150 children have an autism spectrum disorder. The vast majority of the children with severe autism will be unemployable. Service providers currently estimate the lifetime care for one adult with autism can be as much as $10 million dollars. Currently, there are virtually no residential facilities available to meet the needs of the wave of autistic children that will soon age out of school and into the adult population. Because there are no programs in place for adults with autism, parents and family members will likely need to give up their own careers in order to care for their severely disabled adult children.

Question 13: Specifically, what is your plan to address the long-term housing and support of this unique population?

Immunizations are the bedrock of public health. However, they are not without risk. As the number of vaccines mandated by government increases, the chances of adverse vaccine reactions resulting in serious health consequences also increases. There are times when parents may suspect a vaccine reaction but are told by the child's doctor that the reaction is not vaccine related. Vaccine-related injuries can be difficult to identify and in some cases take years to diagnose. Currently, the statute of limitations for filing a claim in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Act is within three years after the first symptom of the vaccine injury.

For over a decade, government officials have steadfastly maintained there was no evidence to show an association between vaccines and autism. And for over a decade, parents trusted and relied upon these assurances and as a result many failed to file a claim with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) within the short statute of limitations of three years.

Last November, the government conceded and agreed to award compensation to a child whose claim was filed in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings. Specifically, the government agreed "that the facts of this case meet the statutory criteria for demonstrating that the vaccinations Hannah Poling received on July 19, 2000, significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in cellular energy metabolism, and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of autism spectrum disorder. Therefore, respondent recommends that compensation be awarded to petitioners."

In addition, it has now been reported that the government agreed to compensate nine other claims where a child developed autism following a vaccine reaction.

Parents and many members of Congress feel the statute of limitations needs to be extended.

Question 14: Because vaccine injuries can result in serious lifelong debilitation for the most innocent of victims, would you agree that in close decisions, the benefit of the doubt in resolving the claim should be given to the victim, the standard for military veterans? As president, would you support, and encourage, VICA reforms that would include an extension of the statute of limitations for a minimum of eight years, and allow for a two-year look back so parents or guardians can file in the VICP? Would you also agree to maintain the "opt-out" provision as written, so that parents could pursue a civil claim, as is the right guaranteed to every other U.S. citizen? As president, would you fight for these provisions?