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Espoir pour l'avenir :  la santé des enfants

Quand on pense à la santé et à l'environnement, explique l'auteure Sharon Flatt, un enfant dans notre société est tout comme un canari dans une mine de charbon. Il existe pourtant de nombreuses maladies infantiles et de morts évitables qui dévastent nos familles et nos collectivités dans cette époque moderne à cause des poisons dans notre environnement. Et, au-dessus de toutes ces mauvaises nouvelles, on constate que le gouvernement fédéral n'a aucune stratégie coordonnée pour la santé et l'environnement.

Malgré tout, on se permet d'espérer. Le Conseil de la conservation a récemment lancé Vigilance Santé, qui augmentera la sensibilité du public à la relation entre la pollution et la santé et qui demandera à la province d'établir un plan d'action pour réduire l'exposition de la population aux polluants industriels et aux pesticides. Flatt est aussi membre du comité provincial sur la santé des enfants et l'environnement qui est coordonné par le Réseau environnemental du Nouveau-Brunswick, et qui travaille en collaboration pour réduire les expositions des enfants aux contaminants environnementaux qui peuvent être la cause de maladies, d'invalidités, d'affections et de mortalités.

Comment peut-on encore espérer? L'espérance est au cœur des humains. C'est aussi simple que cela.

Hope for Tomorrow:

Our Children's Health

Sharon Flatt
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
December 2007

hen it comes to environmental health, a child in our society is like a canary in a coal mine. Miners could teach modern civilization a thing or two about the canary! The first lesson is: Pay attention to the canary! If it dies, get the heck out of the mine!

But what should be done to stop the poisoning of the world's children? There are numerous preventable childhood diseases and deaths devastating families and communities in our modern age due to the poison in our environment. The poisons are there because, even though we may care deeply as individuals, as a society, we are often ignorant and guilty accessories to nothing short of murder.

Now if this seems too harsh an accusation, please look no further than CBC television. Just yesterday, after I finished doing the research for this very article, I sat down to enjoy an hour of CBC TV. With an article from entitled "Could the floral scent of your air freshener contain toxic chemicals known to cause birth defects?" weighing heavy on my mind, the following scenario played out in a commercial...perhaps you've seen it. A child locks herself in the bathroom. The child breathes deeply. The child makes numerous peace doves and breathes deeply. The plug in air freshener spews poison in the bathroom. The child leaves dazed. A second child enters and closes the door. More deep breathing. The air freshener gases another. I fume and loudly wonder to my husband if evil really does exist or if ignorance and greed could be our final demise. Either way, how dare our national broadcaster sell children the idea to sit in their own private gas chambers during family viewing hours? Surely we have all gone mad.

(photo: Don Flatt)

What to do? Regulate. Study. Participate. Scream to high heavens. Cry. Legislate. The first thing we need to do is stop letting our greed overrule our sense of survival. If I wasn't so immersed in this devastating problem, I might be able to take a few steps back and take a deep breath. However, the last time I checked, my friend's daughter is still dead, my son still can't breathe properly a lot of the time, my daughter gets welts from unknown substances, I am on my third day of a migraine from a new building that I was in for two hours three days ago and the research keeps coming. Bisphenol A altering DNA, dioxin making us barren, DDT still causing cancer, lead unsafe at any level, kids' lunches causing neurological damage…and did I mention the air fresheners?

So, there is a growing recognition that environmental factors may contribute to many of the leading causes of illnesses and illness-related deaths, and adverse effects to the general health and wellness of Canadian children. And what is our government doing? The Environmental Health News tells us that, "Unlike nearly every other industrialized country, Canada has no coordinated environmental health strategy. As a result, Canada's current patchwork approach to the most serious environmental hazards threatens the health and well-being of every citizen. Exposure to environmental contaminants is linked to asthma, poisonings, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, developmental disorders, birth defects, and reproductive problems."

(photo: Don Flatt)

Oh great! Canaries dropping like flies and our leaders couldn't care a less. As a matter of fact, just this past year, new regulations introduced by the Conservatives specifically cite that, "…a person may advertise, sell, or import an asbestos product that is used by a child in learning or play." Shame.

There is hope. In the absence of any action by the health department to ensure that public health is protected from environmental contaminants, the Conservation Council has launched a program we are calling Health Watch. The goal of this program is to build public awareness of the link between pollution and health that, in turn, will see the province institute an action plan to reduce people's, particularly children's, exposure to industrial pollutants and pesticides. We will examine the incidence of cancers in communities around the province and their relationship to industrial emissions and pesticides. We can't control the emissions of industrial polluters, the use of pesticides by our neighbours, or the quality of the air we breathe. That's the job of government and that's why we've chosen the slogan - Stop Pollution, Prevent Cancer - to spearhead our public awareness campaign. So, check out and if you do nothing else today, join us.

(photo: Don Flatt)

There is hope. I am an active participant in the Children's Environmental Health committee for the New Brunswick Environmental Network. As a representative of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, I can be optimistic that someday we will all realize the madness of our time. I can be assured that perhaps we will wake up and change our greed to need.

The Children's Environmental Health committee is in its third year working to provide a clean and healthy environment for children in New Brunswick. Our mission is, "To work collaboratively to reduce children's exposure to environmental contaminants that may cause illness, disability, disease, or death." Under the mission, we have been developing six goals which basically point the way to realizing our vision. Our committee is a unique compilation of folks who are dedicated to fulfilling the mission. It is made of representatives from a cross section of environmental NGOs and the provincial government departments of health and environment. The committee has hosted a series of Children's Environmental Health workshops over the past three years. The third and most recent workshop was geared towards an "action" outcome. We brought many agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders together to work in their areas of common ground or "white space" on this topic.

How can we still have hope? The latest study from UBC tells us that exposures to environmental toxins kill up to 25,000 Canadians every year. The rest of us are still alive - there's hope where there's life. It's that simple.