Frequently Asked Questions

The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs) work with health care professionals, parents, schools, and community groups to provide information about protecting children from environmental hazards. PEHSUs also provide consultations on potential environmental exposures and referrals to reproductive and children's environmental health specialists.

PEHSU Fact Sheets & Other Resources

Looking for more information on a particular environmental health topic? We have a number of fact sheets here on our site, and additional resources available from the National PEHSU Office:

PEHSU National Resources for Families and Communities

Have questions? You're not alone. Browse our frequently asked questions for answers.

What is PEHSU?

Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) are sources of medical information and advice on environmental conditions that influence children’s health.

PEHSUs are academically based, typically at university medical centers and are located across the United States, Canada and Mexico. These PEHSUs form a network that is capable of responding to requests for information throughout North America and offering advice on prevention, diagnosis, management and treatment of environmentally-related health effects in children.

What are the common environmental hazards?

Environmental exposures of concern for children include biological, chemical and radiological hazards, such as:

  • Pesticides
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Arsenic
  • Allergens
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Solvents
  • Diesel exhaust
  • Sun exposure
  • Second-hand tobacco smoke
  • Drinking water contaminants
  • Indoor and outdoor air pollutants

What kind of help can I get at PEHSU?

The basic services of the PEHSU network are:

Community Education and Outreach

  • Raising awareness about environmental conditions that may harm children
  • Guidance on preventing or reducing harmful environmental exposures in everyday situations
  • Providing practical advice on helping children cope and recover during and after floods, wildfires, chemical spills and other crises

Training Health Professionals

  • Conducting seminars and conferences
  • Publishing peer-reviewed articles that raise environmental health literacy
  • Translating health care research into medical practice
  • Providing online educational programs and case studies on environmental health issues

Consultation and Referral

  • Evaluating suspected toxic exposures
  • Identifying and interpreting appropriate diagnostic tests
  • Medical management
  • Referral to specialty care

What are some of the health concerns caused by environmental exposures?

Some of the diseases and health problems that children can experience as a result of environmental exposures include:

  • Asthma and/or respiratory disorders
  • Childhood cancer
  • Congenital anomalies (birth defects)
  • Developmental disorders
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Mental retardation
  • Neurological disorders
  • Skin disorders

Potential symptoms may include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Anemia
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioral change
  • Diarrhea

Are most doctors and nurses trained on the effects of the environment on the health of children?

No, and that is why the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units exist. Among other things, we provide expert consultation and training to health care professionals to help them better understand the unique health concerns related to children and environmental exposures.

Children's environmental health is not yet standard in most medical and nursing school curricula, and medical and pediatric textbooks may only skim health topics and their relationship to environmental exposures. Your personal health care professional may be very interested to know that he or she can consult with environmental pediatric professionals at these units, and your interest in this topic may encourage more health care providers to become proficient in the topic.

Should I involve my child's physician when I contact a PEHSU?

We encourage you to work with your primary care doctor to consult the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. If that is not possible, parents are welcome to contact the PEHSU directly.