National Environmental Health Association Position on Children's Environmental Health

Article excerpt

Editor's note:

One of NEHA's responsibilities is to speak up on issues of concern to our members, and one way of doing this involves adopting positions. At NEHA's recent Annual Educational Conference in Washington, D.C., NEHA's Council of Delegates (upon recommendation of your board of directors) voted to officially adopt positions on Children's Environmental Health, Global Climate Change and Endocrine Disrupters.

In this issue, we present NEHA's Position on Children's Environmental Health. Papers on the other two positions mentioned above will appear in subsequent issues.

By publishing these positions in your journal, we strive to keep you (the member) informed about where we stand as your association on critical issues to environmental health. Furthermore, if you and/or your colleagues have the opportunity to advance any of these positions, we encourage you to do so, and hope that these papers are of both use and interest to you.

Background and General Discussion

"Protecting our environment is critical to protecting our children's health."

- Carol Browner (1)

In 1988, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) published The Nature and Extent of Lead Poisoning in Children in the United States: A Report to Congress (2). This document, which discussed the potential for lead contamination to disproportionately affect the health of our nation's children, represented one of the earliest efforts to identify environmental health threats to children and call for their reduction. With the institution of ATSDR's Child Health Initiative in April 1996 and the publication of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (U.S. EPA's) Environmental Health Threats to Children in September 1996, the nation's research and policy communities began to focus on children as specific susceptible populations for a multitude of environmental insults (3).

Purpose

The purpose of this position paper is to review current information on the status of children's environmental health, with particular emphasis on the implications for environmental and public health. Further, this paper reviews and provides support for the National Agenda to Protect Children's Health from Environmental Threats. It is intended to be used as a basis from which environmental and public health practitioners and colleagues in related fields can initiate discussions of children's environmental health with policy makers at all levels - local, state, national, and worldwide.

Problem Statement

Children are different; that is, they are not "little adults." Children one through five years of age eat three to four (or more) times as much food per pound of body weight as the average American adult. The air intake of a resting infant is twice that of an adult (2). In their first six months of life, children drink seven times as much water pound per pound as the average adult (4). Because children eat more calories, drink more water, and breathe more air per pound of body weight than do adults, they are exposed to more pollutants per pound of body weight (3).

Children's systems are still developing; therefore, they are more susceptible to environmental threats. Exposure to toxic substances can affect growth of fetuses, infants, and children. In addition, such exposures may impair development of children's nervous systems and cause abnormal development because of hormonal or immunologic effects. Finally, infant immune systems are less well developed; thus, they may be less able than healthy adults to recover rapidly from exposure to microbes such as cryptosporidium (3).

Increasingly, statistics are being reported that point out the dangers confronting children:

* Ten million children under 12 years of age live within four miles of a hazardous waste dump (1).

* An estimated 50 percent of all the pesticides a human being ingests in a lifetime are ingested in the first five years of life (5). …