Children :: Children have special susceptibility to chemical exposure

Warning that children have special susceptibility to harmful chemical exposure with life-long effects, the United Nations health agency has said that more than 30 per cent of the global burden of disease in children is attributable to environment factors.

According to the UN World Health Organisation (WHO), the stage in a child’s development when chemical exposure occurs may be just as important as the magnitude of the exposure.

Emerging evidence suggests that an increased risk of cancer and heart disease in adults can result in part from exposures to certain environmental chemicals during childhood, it said.

Children are not just small adults, WHO’s team leader for the Inter-regional Research Unit Terri Damstra said. “Children are especially vulnerable and respond differently from adults when exposed to environmental factors, and this response may differ according to 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 agency said.

Air and water contaminants, pesticides in food, lead in soil, as well as many other environmental threats which alter the delicate organism of a growing child may cause or worsen disease and induce developmental problems.

The vulnerability of children is increased in degraded environments. Neglected and malnourished children suffer the most, WHO said.

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