May 20, 2002
Canadian Pediatric Society
2204 Walkley Road, Ste. 100
Ottawa, ON K1G 4G8
Dear Sir or Madam:
In the April, 2002 issue of Paediatrics and Child Health there is a brief piece on page 231, under the heading “Advocacy”, written by Jack Holland et al, entitled “Championing health care for children and youth: ensuring Canada’s future”. The article opens with the following comments: “Children and youth younger than 19 years of age…are the future of our country.” The authors add: “Beyond any other single strategy that may be applied, the investment in a framework of sound psychosocial, physical and mental health, and educational opportunities for every one of our children and youth will benefit society as a whole.”
Through the rest of the article, many strategies are listed and promoted, but none not one refers to creating a safe ecosystem for children to grow up in. While promoting immunization, anti-poverty measures, injury prevention, more paediatricians, mental health services, Aboriginal programs and programs to encourage self-care among youth, the authors make no formal mention of advocacy for a clean, uncontaminated environment, free of chemical toxins or other hazards. Despite the ground-breaking work of Eric Dewailly in Canada and Joseph Jacobsen in the U.S., both of whom have shown that prenatal exposure to environmental contaminants (e.g. PCBs, dioxins, pesticides) causes very persistent and possibly life-long neurodevelopmental deficits, the authors do not address the fact that that children and most particularly the fetus are at unique risks of environmental harm and thus deserving of special protection. (In Canada, this problem is especially severe for Aboriginal communities in the far North, as they receive, via prevailing winds, an excessive exposure to toxins from temperate regions to the south.)
Ground level ozone and other air contaminants cause an increasing burden of childhood lung disease, especially asthma, as well as short and long-term disability. Pre- and post-natal lead exposure still causes ongoing developmental and cognitive impairment, even after removing lead from gasoline. Global warming and the spread of new infectious diseases and disease vectors will impact significantly on children.
The impact of environmental contamination and degradation on children, and most especially on the defenceless fetus, are problems less politically neutral than immunization programs, and less socially visible than accident prevention. But in terms of profound impact, I venture that they will rend our social fabric for many years to come and they are getting worse, not better.
I urge the authors of this advocacy piece and the CPS too, if their comments represent a consensus position to redress this hiatus in their work, and speak out and act forcefully to promote a safe, clean and healthy Canadian ecosystem. That’s where today’s and tomorrow’s Canadian citizens live. Our neglect of this issue today will leave a painful legacy for many, many tomorrows. Let’s act now.
Warren Bell MD
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment