Kids playing with masks on
Oregon State University won a $5 million grant to study ways to protect children from environmental health hazards like lead paint and wildfire smoke. (Photo by Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

By Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon State University has won a $5 million federal grant to protect children from environmental health hazards like lead paint and wildfire smoke. 

The five-year grant, one of six awarded nationwide, will fund a new center that will be focused on teaching educators, parents, politicians and public health organizations about ways to make homes, classrooms and neighborhoods safer for children.

“We know a lot about how environmental stressors can negatively affect children’s health. The purpose of this grant is to translate that research into programs and practices that can reduce children’s exposure to harmful environmental factors and improve their health and well-being,” Molly Kile, principal investigator on the project, said in a statement. and a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The new “ASP3IRE” Center, housed at the university’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences in Corvallis, will be staffed by six public health professors. 

Five other universities, including Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, will set up similar centers with their own grants. 

Kile told the Capital Chronicle that the university’s extension services, with offices around the state, gives it a wide reach for conducting research and education projects. Kile said the university also has relationships with many early childhood learning centers.

With the money, the researchers plan to launch pilot projects to reduce children’s exposure to wildfire smoke and chemical pollutants typically found in homes like lead, radon and flame retardants. They’ll also spearhead campaigns around safe drinking water, helping communities that rely on wells to test for pollutants like nitrate from agricultural runoff, which is dangerous for kids and adults to consume in high quantities.

Part of the money will be used for developing information campaigns, by creating pamphlets and working with community groups on the best ways to spread the information. 

The center will build on work already underway at OSU. Professors at the university train school leaders on how to protect students from lead paint and chemicals that are neurotoxicants, which can hinder brain development. The grant will enable the university to increase the number of these sessions.

Though a lot is known about environmental health hazards for children, many educators in early childhood centers and schools know little about harmful chemicals or how to protect children from exposure, Megan McClelland, a director at the College of Public Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle was launched in October 2021 as part of the States Newsroom, a 501c3 nonprofit that has newsrooms across the country covering state politics, agencies and legislatures. None has a paywall and none takes corporate dollars or ads. We thrive entirely on public donations. In Oregon, Lynne Terry is editor-in-chief, Julia Shumway is senior reporter and Alex Baumhardt and Ben Botkin are staff reporters.