Créer un environnement salubre pour nos enfants
Peu de personne nieraient qu'une de nos principales responsabilités
consiste à créer un environnement salubre pour les enfants.
Individuellement, nous pouvons faire des changements ou continuer à
faire les choix nécessaires pour créer un environnement plus
sécuritaire, et plus salubre pour nos enfants. Toutefois, il est
important de travailler en unisson et d'insister pour que nos
gouvernements et les entreprises prennent leurs responsabilités et aussi
pour augmenter la sensibilisation aux dangers des pesticides, pour
prévenir les dangers et pour prendre les mesures de précaution
nécessaires pour protéger la vie de nos enfants.
by Loren Vanderlinden
|Health Effects from
Health researchers are recognizing that quite an array of
illnesses and conditions in childhood are influenced by many
different environmental contaminants. These include conditions such
as asthma and respiratory problems, childhood cancers, learning
disabilities and behavioural problems, reproductive and other
developmental effects. Exposure to air pollution, pesticides, lead,
mercury, environmental tobacco smoke and others are linked to some
of the more worrisome health effects in children.
Creating a safe
environment for children
Loren VanderLinden, Toronto
Kathleen Cooper, Canadian
Environmental Law Association
and grandparents are governed by an instinct even older than the
human species itself: to protect and care for the children in their
lives. Few would deny that one of our greatest responsibilities in
life is to create an environment that is safe for children. That
responsibility has taken on new challenges in recent decades as a
rapidly growing body of scientific knowledge has shone a light on
children's vulnerabilities and the potentially worrisome effects
from exposure to agents found in our environment.
(Photo courtesy of Mark & Tonya Surman Commons Consulting)
Children's environmental health refers to aspects of health and
disease in children that are determined by environmental factors.
Environmental factors tend to be broadly viewed and can include
chemicals, radiation and some biological agents. The environment can
also include built structures, aspects of the community and the
home, school or other places where children spend time.
What do We Know?
It's safe to say that in the field of children's environmental
health what we don't know far surpasses what we do know, though
knowledge is building. We know that children's health problems of
environmental origin are of great concern. Children are being
exposed from the very beginning of their lives to many different
substances. Research shows that traces of chemicals can be detected
in the tissues and fluids (blood, urine, even breast milk) of just
about all people and animals on the globe. Our knowledge of the
environmental and health effects of the vast majority of these
chemicals is incomplete.
Toxicology, the science that studies the harmful effects of
poisons, chemicals and physical and biological agents, shows that
most often it is the amount of a substance taken in (that is, the
dose) that determines how much harm is done. However, studies in
children and young animals show that timing can be more important
than dose. Even low dose exposures can be harmful if they happen at
a sensitive time. Starting from in the womb through to adolescence,
there are many periods where body cells, tissues and organs are
growing and developing. These periods are called, "critical
windows of vulnerability" and they represent the times when
toxic exposures are most likely to produce permanent effects.
Though once again knowledge is incomplete, we know the most
about the vulnerable windows for the baby in the womb. Science
recognizes that a mother's body is in fact, the first environment
for her child. It may even be the first environmental influence on
her grandchildren. Research suggests that, in some cases, effects can
be found in later generations (including children's children)
because of a grandmother's harmful exposures during pregnancy.
Why are Children More at Risk?
We know that children are exposed in many possible ways and that
they are often more exposed to environmental contaminants compared
to adults. Like adults, contaminants reach children through air,
water, soil and food. However, unlike adults, children have
additional exposure sources from the placenta, breast milk and
non-food products, such as toys, bottles, carpets, floor surfaces,
and so on.
At birth and even beyond, because they have immature and
underdeveloped organs, children take in more chemical contaminants
than adults. The mechanisms that normally help protect from
chemicals that invade the body are also underdeveloped in early
life. Because of their small size, what children take in represents
a substantial amount by comparison to their body weight. For
instance, when a child eats one apple it is comparable to an adult
eating about five!
Children's curious and exploratory behaviour also influences
their exposures. If you watch toddlers play, you know they discover
their world (and the things in it) using their hands and mouth.
Because they are closer to the ground, they have greater contact
with possible sources of contamination.
Who is Most at Risk?
Not all children in this country are equally at risk of harm to
their health from environmental exposures. Poor children and
Aboriginal children in Canada suffer the worst of all possible
worlds. They are probably the most highly exposed to contaminants
and the most vulnerable to health effects from those exposures for
12% of Canadian children have asthma and they are more likely to be
hospitalized for respiratory symptoms than any other health problem.
Both indoor and outdoor air pollution contributes to asthma.
disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),
autism and other developmental and behavioural disorders of the
nervous system appear to be on the increase, though data are
limited and not all experts agree. The brain and nervous system
continue to develop well into adolescence so they have a long period
where they are vulnerable to harm.
the substances that can harm the developing brain, lead is still a
major contaminant of concern for children. Lead in outdoor or
household dust is likely the most important route of exposure in
young children. Lead-exposed children are more likely to suffer from
learning disabilities and problems in school and to display
hyperactive, violent or antisocial behaviour.
is another substance that can harm brain development with the fetus
being especially vulnerable. Studies in the U.S. found that 6% of
women of childbearing age are exposed to mercury from fish in
unacceptable amounts. Fish consumption guidelines in Canada are
under review and should consider both the risks of mercury exposure
and the many health benefits from eating fish.
studies in the U.S. and Canada indicate that most children had
measurable amounts of pesticides or their breakdown products in
their urine. This shows that most children are exposed to pesticides
(in small amounts). Although these exposures have not been linked
with health effects that we know of, further research is called for.
Raising awareness of the need to limit exposure of children and
pregnant women to pesticides used around the home is important.
Environmental health researchers agree that the child
environmental burden of illness is increasing in Canada and other
industrialized countries. Research into the economic burden of these
diseases and disorders supports the need for exposure prevention. If
we prevent exposure in the first place, not only do we better
protect children and prevent ill health effects, but we
substantially reduce the costs in health care, human productivity
and many other intangible costs to society.
What can be Done?
Prevention strategies include awareness, avoidance and advocacy.
We need to create greater awareness of the potential environmental
threats to children's health, and ways to avoid them, as well as to
advocate for overall improvement in environmental quality. This
involves education of all those who influence the well-being of
children including parents, caregivers, health professionals and
policymakers. All of these groups need to better understand that
environmental risks to children's health are preventable.
Canadian Partnership for Child Health and Environment (CPCHE) is
helping create a healthy environment for children. CPCHE partners
are working together to protect children's health from environmental
exposures by moving this issue into the minds of decision-makers,
service provider organizations, individual practitioners and the
public. CPCHE partners encourage precautionary action to prevent
harmful exposures. They promote and call for safer products and
greater controls on pollution, along with other appropriate policy
actions that will protect children's health and development now and
for future generations. The CPCHE Child Health and Environment
Primer and fact sheets are coming in July 2005. The Primer's
Environmental Top Ten Childproofing Tips will give parents (and
others who care for children) some simple ways to take precautionary
Individually, we can make changes or continue making choices that
create a safer, healthier, "childproofed" environment for
our children. However, borrowing from the African proverb that says,
"it takes a village to raise a child", we must also work
together and insist on governments and industry taking
responsibility as well to raise awareness, prevent harm and take
precautionary action to protect our children. Much is happening to
address the environmental exposures and health risks facing
children. Much remains to be done.
You can check out the CPCHE web site at: www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca
and join the CPCHE mailing list to receive the latest information
about children's health and environment issues.