Report examines chemical exposure impact on children

A report highlighting the impact of chemical exposure on children during their development has been published by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Principles for Evaluating Health Risks in Children Associated with Exposure to Chemicals highlights children’s particular susceptibility to harmful exposures at different periods of their growth.

Dr Terri Damstra, WHO team leader for the Interregional Research Unit, said: “Children are not just small adults. Children are especially vulnerable and respond differently from adults when exposed to environmental factors, and this response may differ according to the different periods of development they are going through.

“For example, their lungs are not fully developed at birth, or even at the age of eight, and lung maturation may be altered by air pollutants that induce acute respiratory effects in childhood and may be the origin of chronic respiratory disease later in life.”

The report, published at the end of last month as part of the Environmental Health Criteria series, says the stage in children’s development when exposure occurs may be as important as the exposure level.

Effects from prenatal and birth exposure include miscarriage, still birth, low birth weight and birth defects.

In young children, they can be infant death, asthma, harm to the brain and immune system and in adolescents, early or delayed puberty.

Evidence suggests an increased risk of certain diseases in adults such as cancer and heart disease from exposure to certain environmental chemicals in childhood.

The WHO says the report will help the health sector and policy makers protect children into adulthood.

One in five children in the poorest parts of the world will not live longer than their fifth birthday, mainly because of environment-related diseases.

More than 30% of the global disease in children can be put down to environmental factors. Their vulnerability is heightened by their circumstances, such as housing, nutrition, health care and education.

To order the report visit the WHO website

David Gibbs

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