Fire / Feu

                     

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is Children’s
Environ-
mental Health?

Powerpoint
presentation
by Loren Vanderlinden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Health Effects from Environmental Exposures

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 Public Health
Kathleen Cooper, Canadian Environmental Law Association
April 2005

Parents 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 many reasons.

Important Data

About 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.

Learning 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.

Of 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.

Mercury 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.

Recent 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.

The 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 action.

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.