We have gathered information from a few WHO studies on Children’s Health and the Environment. The condensed version is below. This is a very detailed presentation on Children, Chemicals, Enviroment and how it affects them.
Chemicals are used in everyday life – they bring in numerous benefits, such as protecting human and animal health, promoting hygiene, protecting crops, controlling vectors of disease. However, chemicals may also pose risks to human and animal health. Exposures to chemicals in the micro and macro-environments of children may cause functional and organic damage, especially during periods of vulnerability. Many become unwanted pollutants and some of these are persistent in the environment.
“Children are not little adults”
Children are exposed to myriad chemicals at home, at school, in the playground, in fields and streets, both in rural and urban environments.
- Toxicants are present in or as: household products, building materials, house dust, and toys
- unexpected contaminants in pharmaceuticals, or inappropriate cosmetics, and hygiene products;
- second hand smoke;
- chemicals in the workplace of the parents or the child; and also as “take home” exposures, e.g: when the working parent brings in contaminated clothes to the home: chemicals, solvents, metals, pesticides;
- persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and also other chemicals polluting the environment resulting of degradation products;
- chemicals of natural origin: including arsenic (As) and fluorides (Fl) in water, mycotoxins (e.g. aflatoxins), cyanogen radicals (plants that are rich in cyanide-generating compounds, e.g. Cassava and pyrrolizidine alkaloids (present in some plants that may be used to prepare herbal teas);
- mixed chemicals can result in additional and unexpected toxic effects, or synergic action on exposures.
In addition Children’s environmental health and chemical safety problems can be magnified.
- unsafe use of chemicals – due to lack of information and education on their safe and judicious use and to prevailing illiteracy; illicit products;
- increasing pollution and uncontrolled use of chemicals – due to lack of appropriate regulatory measures or the impossibility of enforcing them (e.g. because of lack of personnel, controls andsurveillance);
- chemical dumping and waste sites are adjacent to populated areas; additional factors such as malnutrition, infectious diseases and poverty;
- lack of awareness about risks, cultural aspects, and poor access to information;
- lack of interest because of other urgent, immediate health priorities;
- despair at the magnitude of the problem, which may seem impossible to solve.
We now recognize that children, including the embryo, fetus, infant and all life stages until the completion of adolescence, are often at different and increased risk from environmental hazards than adults, for reasons that can be divided into four major categories.
- Children often have different and sometimes unique exposures to environmental hazards from those of adults.
- Due to their dynamic developmental physiology, they often receive higher exposures to pollutants found in air, water and food which may be handled quite differently by an immature set of systems from the ways they are dealt with in adults. Furthermore, the developmental component of a child’s physiology is changing, maturing, differentiating and growing in phases known as developmental windows. These critical windows of vulnerability have no parallel in adult physiology and create unique risks for children exposed to hazards which can alter normal function and structure.
- Children have a longer life expectancy. They have longer to manifest disease with a long latency period (e.g. cancer), and longer to live with toxic damage.
- Finally, children are politically powerless; they are defenseless. With no political standing of their own, they must rely on adults to protect them from toxic environmental agents.
Toxicokinetics is the term given to all the processes and pathways that a substance goes through in the body (e.g. absorption, transportation, conversion or metabolism and elimination). Children have a dynamic physiology that is turned up to “high” because of growth demands. In addition, they are vulnerable to damage during the differentiation and maturation of organs and systems.
Xenobiotics or “chemicals foreign to the biological system” utilize metabolic pathways intended for processing of nutrients and for eliminating metabolites. Some xenobiotics are dangerous as ingested and need to be detoxified by metabolism. Others are not dangerous when ingested but may become dangerous when metabolized (for example: paracetamol overdose, methyl alcohol). Children are in an “anabolic” state and require larger amounts of energy, water, oxygen and nutrients than do adults.
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DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other health care provider. The information provided here is for informational purposes only. This post may not cover all possible drug interactions or all FDA / WHO warnings or alerts. Please check with a physician if you have health questions or concerns about interactions or go to the FDA / WHO for a comprehensive list of warnings. Although we attempt to provide accurate and up-to-date information, no guarantee is made to that effect.
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