Jonas Philanthropies Children’s Environmental Health program is a new voice in the growing movement to create safer and healthier environments for children everywhere by eliminating and banning harmful chemicals and toxic substances found in everyday life. The organization has already allocated more than $2 million to environmental health organizations. Jonas funds programs and projects that provide credible, science-based, actionable information about the impact of toxic chemicals, contaminants and toxins on children’s health with the aim of providing market or policy solutions. Solutions can include banning the worst classes of chemicals, investing in green chemistry and looking to other places like the EU) that have much stronger laws that prioritize protecting the health of individuals, families and communities over short-term corporate profits.  Jonas Philanthropies Children’s Environmental Health program aims to educate parents and health care workers to empower them to reach out to their elected officials and to encourage scientists to reach out to businesses and retailers. In addition, we fund under-researched areas such as those that studies the impact of EMF radiation on children.

The Problem: We are swimming in a toxic chemical soup

There are currently more than 85,000 chemicals in the United States that comprise the products we use in our daily lives. Less than two percent have been assessed thoroughly for safety. Surprisingly, the federal government has relatively little oversight over most chemicals in commerce. As a result, the United States uses over a billion pounds of pesticides each year — nearly a fifth of worldwide use. Once they’re approved, pesticides often remain on the market for decades, even when scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows a pesticide is causing harm to people or the environment.

Exposure to common environmental hazards in our homes, schools and the larger community  can have lifelong consequences to our health and well-being. We now know these exposures start before conception as many of these harmful chemicals are present in the bodies of all pregnant women. Scientists have tested the blood, breast milk and urine from hundreds of women and the umbilical cord blood from many newborns and toxic chemicals were found in every woman and infant. In fact, In a study spearheaded by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Commonweal, industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood including (brominated flame retardants, pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and toxic by-products from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage). (Environmental Working Group analysis of tests of 10 umbilical cord blood samples conducted by AXYS Analytical Services (Sydney, BC) and Flett Research Ltd. (Winnipeg, MB).) Of the 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood:

  • 180 cause cancer in humans or animals
  • 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system
  • 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development
  • 8 perfluorochemicals (PFOA & PFOS) used as stain and oil repellents in fast food packaging, clothes, and textiles

Our children are highly impacted: Children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental risks simply because they are children. Given how they learn and play (playing on the ground, putting things in their mouths, etc) children have higher rates of exposures. Children breathe more rapidly, eat more, and drink more relative to their body weight than adults. Their brains, nervous systems, and organs continue developing after birth and throughout adolescence, and therefore are more sensitive and vulnerable to the effects of toxic exposures. Their immature organs also cannot remove toxics from their bodies as easily as healthy adults.  Children in disadvantaged communities face the highest risks. Industry and agricultural workers who work directly with toxicants, their children and communities that reside nearby face significant and regular exposures.  The vast majority are low income and children of color.  All children deserve to grow and develop unimpeded by toxics in their natural, home, and learning environments.

Solutions- Educate, activate, advocate, legislate

A useful first step individuals can take is to assess their own exposures and those of loved ones and to make some simple lifestyle changes and advocate for changes in your communities to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals. Here are some comprehensive checklists you can use as a guide:

Here are things we can all ask our elected officials to do:

  • Support the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act introduced by Senator Cory Booker in late 2021 to remove dangerous pesticides within our farm system and help prevent childhood cancer.
  • Demand and Produce safer chemicals and products.
  • Evaluate chemicals and mixtures before they are brought to market.
  • Ban dangerous chemicals like glyphosate and paraquat that are on track to become the next RoundUp.
  • Re-evaluate chemicals that have been on the market and are now used, which include flouride and many harmful pesticides.
  • Evaluate new technologies like wireless non-ionizing radiation and demand safer alternatives.
  • Invest in cancer and toxin-created disease prevention research including bio monitoring.
  • Advance public policy to incentivize safer chemicals and pesticides.
  • Support and expand regulations to reduce or eliminate known causes of cancer and other illnesses acute and chronic associated with environmental exposure, including diabetes, heart disease, renal disease, and more.
  • Insist that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pays more attention to preventing exposures to the chemicals EPA is charged with regulating, and to better educate the public about research results connecting immediate and chronic cancer risks (and other health effects) from pesticides and other toxic chemicals.
  • Push for better labeling on products in order for us all to understand the dangers they may cause. Safer States is a great program that tracks model state policies:

Evidence of a cognitive and behavioral epidemic: 

A substantial and expanding body of research indicates that early life exposures to toxic pollutants in our water, food, air, soil and consumer products—can contribute to autism, IQ loss, learning or behavioral problems, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and speech or cognitive delays.   So much important brain development happens during pregnancy and a child’s first two years. An example is that during the first few years of life, a child develops neural connections at the incredible rate of 1 million per second. ( Whether or not these connections thrive or weaken creates what the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child calls “the architecture” of a child’s brain – a foundation with lasting impacts for his or her future. Upsetting the architecture of the brain has serious life-long implications, such as diagnosed diseases like autism to less clearly defined disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and more subtle challenges like learning disabilities and sensory deficits.

In 2016 experts in the field published an unprecedented consensus statement in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, leading experts in the field agreeing that scientific evidence is now strong enough to support a link between exposures to the toxic chemicals in their lives and children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders like intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity and learning disabilities. Exposures to chemicals that harm the brain are not the only cause for these lifelong learning and developmental delays but they are some of the most preventable. In addition, it is important to note that there is a growing body of evidence linking toxic exposures such poor air quality to mental health issues in youth that can last throughout their lifespan such as anxiety and depression. Read More 

Evidence of a cognitive epidemic In the United States (small sample of peer reviewed research):

Read More

Evidence of a health epidemic in the United States:

  • 43% of children (32 million) currently have at least 1 of 20 chronic health conditions (excluding obesity).
  • The total number of children suffering from this chronic disease increased by 75 percent between 1980 and 1994.1 in 12 children have asthma which is the leading chronic illness for children in the United States. (
  • About 10,470 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2022 (American Cancer Society)
  • 16,000 premature births each year are attributed to air pollution
  • In 2018, it was estimated that 15,590 children/youth between 0-19 were diagnosed with cancer and that number is on the rise. It is well known that the majority of cancers (estimated at over 80 percent) are environmentally and lifestyle induced.

The Economic costs to society from early Environmental Health Exposures (not including financial and stress related costs to families)

  • Although estimates need to be updated and are expected to be much higher today. In 2008, it was conservatively estimated that costs in the US of environmental disease in children alone amounted to a staggering $76.6 billion (3.5% of total health care costs) just from “lead poisoning, prenatal methylmercury exposure, childhood cancer, asthma, intellectual disability, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
  • Nearly half of Americans have one or more chronic diseases. This accounts for more than 80% of the annual $3 trillion we spend on health care (about $8,000 per person/year). (Ironically, the entire budget for all chronic disease prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is just $1.2 billion, which nets out to about $4 per person/year).
  • Special education costs for the estimated 20 million children struggling with a developmental brain disorder are estimated to be $130 billion annually.
  • The average additional medical expenditure for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder are $4,100 to $6,200 per year.
  • The estimated combined annual cost of medical expenses and lost productivity from exposure to toxic flame retardants, pesticides and other chemicals is $282 billion.
  • Four outcomes that evidence suggests are candidates for “environmental causation” were chosen for analysis: diabetes, Parkinson’s disease (PD), neurodevelopmental effects and hypothyroidism, and deficits in intelligence quotient (IQ). The cumulative costs identified are very large, totaling $568 billion to $793 billion per year for Canada and the United States combined. USA diabetes $128 billion per year; PD in the United States, $13 billion to $28.5 billion per year; neurodevelopmental deficits and hypothyroidism are endemic and, including estimates of costs of childhood disorders that evidence suggests are linked, amount to $81.5 billion to $167 billion per year for the United States. loss of 5 IQ points cost $275 billion to $326 billion per year in the United States; and hypothetical dynamic economic impacts cost another $19 billion to $92 billion per year for the United States and Canada combined.
  • In looking at cancer alone, reasoned arguments based on the weight of evidence can support the hypothesis that at least 10%, up to 50% of these costs are environmentally induced–between $57 billion and $397 billion per year.
  • An analysis of the costs associated with Childhood Lead Poisoning were staggering.: Conservative Estimates- lead paint hazard control ($1–$11 billion) and the benefits of reduction attributed to each cohort for health care ($11–$53 billion), lifetime earnings ($165–$233 billion), tax revenue ($25–$35 billion), special education ($30–$146 million), attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder ($267 million), and the direct costs of crime ($1.7 billion).
  • Each dollar invested in lead paint hazard control results in a return of $17–$221 or a net savings of $181–269 billion.
  • A 2001 scholarly article estimated that between 316,588 and 637,233 babies are born with mercury-related losses of cognitive function ranging from 0.2 to 5.13 points. Decreased economic productivity resulting from diminished intelligence over a lifetime results: $8.7 billion annually (range: $0.7–$13.9 billion, 2000 dollars). Downward shifts in intellectual quotient (IQ) are also associated with 1566 (range: 115–2675) excess cases of mental retardation (MR defined as IQ < 70) annually. This number accounts for 3.2% (range: 0.2–5.4%) of MR cases in the United States. If the lifetime excess cost of a case of MR (excluding individual productivity losses) is $1,248,648 in 2000 dollars, then the cost of these excess cases of MR is $2.0 billion annually (range: $143 million–$3.3 billion). Preliminary data suggest that more stringent mercury policy options would prevent thousands of cases of MR and billions of dollars over the next 25 years.
  • Although experts predict costs currently exceed these estimates, In 2016, Routers reported that Toxic chemicals tied to $340 billion in U.S. health costs and lost wages

Human and Societal Costs:

The Human costs to this needless suffering are difficult to quantify, but no less drastic and tragic. Think of days missed at work to take care of sick children at home. Effects are direct and indirect such as the drain on our education and health care systems and the drain and trauma on family systems dealing with the trauma of unwell children. Finally, one must ask about the cost to our democracy and civil society. “The wide-spread implications are vividly illustrated by considering neurocognitive disorders, with a small IQ decrease across society. As abilities and intellect are reduced among the best and brightest, we lose potential leaders and innovators, while simultaneously costs mount for continuing care needed by larger numbers at the bottom end of the IQ and abilities spectrum.”

Children’s environmental health investments

The Ecology Center- A grant provided in order to measure the amount of flame retardants in car seats.

Center for Environmental Health- A grant provided to create a toolkit of safe foodwares options for school cafeterias. Center for Environmental Health’s work to eliminate PFAS from the disposable foodware used in K-12 schools and the launching of the first-ever GreenScreen Certified™ Standard for Food Service Ware.

Daily Acts– Grants provided for the creation of a toolkit of environmental health language for municipal general plans.

Grassroots Environmental Education– Resources provided to help raise awareness of the hazards of non-thermal non-ionizing radiation (found in cell phones) to babies and pregnant women.

Safer Chemicals Healthy Families- Grants provided to further research on access to lead testing for toddlers.

Defend our Health- Grants provided to advance research on food safe gloves.

National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy- Resources allocated to support a conference on hardwired landlines as an alternative to wireless communication.

Alliance of Nurses for Health Environments- A grant provided to help this important organization start a west coast chapter.

Environmental Health Trust – Funding allocated for a lawsuit against the FCC in which a Federal Appeals court remanded the FCC for their “safety” standards (established in 1996 and reapproved in 2020). They are now required to review over 1000 studies on EMF science and to address childhood exposures.

Green Science Policy Institute- Funding to educate major retailers about the 8 classes of toxic chemicals and another grant to test flame retardant dust in vehicles.

From the Heart Productions- Funding for “Generation Zapped,” a film about wireless radiation and children.

CAFE Conservation Action Fund for Education- Funding to help start a Sonoma county based Safe Agriculture Safe Schools program to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides in the California North Bay Area and promote sustainable grazing for pesticide use reduction and fire prevention.

Children Now- Funding to assess the need for a California state-wide children’s environmental health collaborative.

Families Advocating for Chemical and Toxics Safety (FACTS) – Funding to help with the creation of toolkits for toxics free living and for education and advocacy work. As a result of this effort, Children’s Environmental Health Month was recognized in California with a focus of protecting children from cancer causing pesticides and protecting them from lead contaminated water. Further, 26 California cities created local resolutions in a similar vein. Jonas Philanthropies funded and participated in a California-based coalition working on the elimination of PFAS chemicals in children’s products and in food packaging (most fast food chains use PFAS coated wrappers) and labeling of cookware with PFAS coating. This effort culminated in model state-wide protective legislation.

Children’s Environmental Health Network – General operating support to support their green day care promote and children’s environmental health day.

Environmental Working Group- A four-year grant from Jonas Philanthropies funded The Jonas Initiative at EWG, which aims to become the premier online source of information for parents searching for credible, science-based, actionable information about the impact of toxic chemicals, contaminants and toxins on children’s health. Environmental Working Group conducted and published peer research in the scientific journal Environmental Health that calls for 200x-400x stricter EMF exposure limits for children.

Jonas Environmental Health Education Project at UCSF School of Medicine – A four-year grant from Jonas Philanthropies will support the Jonas Project at UCSF, “Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment,” with a goal of advancing efforts to bring the role of the environment and toxic chemicals on prenatal and child health into the medical health professional field, and to connect this work to parents and families.

Our people

Our children’s environmental health initiatives are guided by recognized healthcare leaders.


Children’s environmental health news

Jonas Philanthropies supports children’s environmental health.