Monday, September 26, 2005

Childproofing for Environmental Health

I have to admit, my segue into the environmental movement was based on selfish motives. After the birth of our first child twenty years ago, I began the process of childproofing our home. Once I'd managed the interior of our house, I took a peek outside. My first concerns were the hazards within our own yard, and then I took a look at the bigger backyard of our community.

It was a serious awakening. Durham Region is home to the two largest nuclear power plants in Canada. In addition to routine plants emissions, we also have high-level and low-level waste to deal with, as well as several regular-type garbage dumps. And then there's the air quality. Thanks to our proximity downwind from the Golden Horseshoe and the Ohio Valley, we have some of the worst air quality, and correspondingly high asthma rates, in the country. Did I mention we live on the shore of Lake Ontario, home to the countless thousand chemicals that we flush down our drains everyday?

I guess you could say I had my work cut out for me. Still do, for that matter, but fortunately I am not alone. The health of our children – both our greatest natural resource and our future – is increasingly the focus of a tremendous amount of intelligent concern and research.

Last week, this body of research was added to significantly by the launch of the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and the Environment (CPCHE) national awareness campaign. The CPCHE campaign is aimed at providing parents, childcare providers and decision makers with the tools to protect children from environmental risks. To understand the depth of the research behind this campaign, one only needs to look at a partial list of CPCHE members, which includes The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Canadian Institute of Child Health and Pollution Probe (to name a few).

As a part of the campaign, CPCHE has released the report, "Child Health and the Environment - A Primer", and a brochure, "Playing it Safe: Childproofing for Environmental Health."

I like both of these publications very much. They are well researched, well written and easy to read. More importantly, they put the environment as the context for child health. In other words, every single aspect of a child's health is determined by the health of the environment in which they live. And by environment, I mean everything – before conception, during pregnancy, first foods (breastmilk or not), how often you wash your hands when handling a baby, how you play with a child, when and how you dust your home, and even it you take your shoes off at the door!

This one particularly intrigued me. It turns out that it isn't just dust that we trek into our homes. Metals, pesticides, pollens and animal feces, to name a few, are all things that we advertently bring into our homes and in doing so create potential threats to our children, who typically spend 80 percent of their time indoors.

Over all, "Child Health and the Environment" recommends its Top Ten List for environmental childproofing. These include:
1. Healthy Living and Healthy Eating
2. Handwashing and Dustbusting
3. Healthy Indoor Air
4. Outdoor Air Pollution Reduction
5. Toxic Use Reduction
6. Safe at Play
7. Safe Renovations
8. Special Measures in Rural Northerly Settings
9. Be an Informed Consumer
10.Get Involved

The publications also explain why we should be more concerned about protecting children from environmental contaminants. The smaller they are, the more likely they are to be crawling around on the floor, picking up stuff we don't even see (hence the "take off your shoes" tip). Relative to their size, they absorb more contaminates than adults at a time when the are growing and developing far faster than at any other time of their lives.

Which is perhaps where the selfish part kicks in. Ultimately, children are our future. Forget about pension plans, RSPs and mutual funds. It's time that we started protecting our greatest investment.


To download the "Child Health and the Environment - A Primer" or the brochure, "Playing it Safe: Childproofing for Environmental Health" visit Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and the Environment

The CPCHE report was released in conjunction with the Toronto Public Health's study, "Environmental Threats to Children: Understanding the Risks, Enabling Prevention." To view the report go to City of Toronto

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

The Canadian Environmental Law Association


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