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You are here: Home / Media / News / Better information needed to end "large-scale experiment with children's health," EEA chief says

Better information needed to end "large-scale experiment with children's health," EEA chief says

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More and better information on the effects of environmental pollutants on children is needed if society is to end its "large-scale experiment with children's health," the executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA), Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, said today.

NEWS RELEASE


Copenhagen/Budapest, 24 June 2004


Better information needed to end "large-scale experiment with children's health," EEA chief says


More and better information on the effects of environmental pollutants on children is needed if society is to end its "large-scale experiment with children's health," the executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA), Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, said today.


"The environments of our children - their air, water, food, consumer products, homes and schools - are contaminated with cocktails of low levels of gases and particles from fossil fuel combustion, of largely untested chemicals and of other environmental "stressors" such as noise, damp, microbes and tobacco smoke," Prof. McGlade told the World Health Organization (WHO) European ministerial conference on environment and health in Budapest.


"We are happy to enjoy the benefits from the economic activities that create these pollutants, but we are only just beginning to find out what this large-scale experiment with children's health is actually doing to them," she said in a speech to the conference.


Prof McGlade added: "If our children knew how much we do not know about this large-scale experiment, they would be shocked - and if we told them what we do know, they would perhaps be even more shocked."


Despite the lack of knowledge on many issues, it was clear there was a link between reducing environmental pollution and improving public health, she said.


"Overall, reducing environmental pollutants and stressors could lead to reductions in perhaps 5-20% of environmentally induced deaths, diseases and disabilities in Europe's children, with significant savings to future health and education budgets."


The Budapest conference is focusing, among other things, on how best to create a shared "environment and health information system" that brings together the so far largely separate streams of data and information on the environment and on health.


Prof. McGlade said much data and knowledge could be drawn from existing information - in many cases collected for other purposes - but new and coordinated information was also needed to fill the large knowledge gaps that remain.


For example, she said, only for 14% of chemicals produced in large volumes are sufficient public data available to allow a minimal assessment of their risks - and then only for exposure to one substance at a time, not to the combinations of substances to which children are exposed in reality.


"Many elements of such an information service are already in place, mostly at country level, but more needs to be done if we want to look our children in the eye and say that our ongoing large-scale experiment is not damaging to their health," she said.


In helping to build environment and health information services in partnership with the WHO, the European Commission, countries and other relevant actors, the EEA would focus on two main priorities over the next five years, Prof. McGlade said.


The first would be to promote the collection of data on children's exposure to environmental contaminants in an "integrated" way - looking at pollutants in combination instead of individually - by further improving monitoring of the environment.


The second priority was "to turn scattered data into a reliable information service." This would be achieved by formulating relevant indicators and assessments of environment and health, and by presenting information on scales that were appropriate for different users.


These scales ranged from the "backyard" of a national minister - in other words, the whole country - down to the local neighbourhood of citizens who want to know more about the environment in, literally, their backyard.


Prof. McGlade said the circumstances surrounding a number of important health-related discoveries had shown that identifying and responding to early warnings of health hazards required many different players and multiple sources of information and knowledge.


These sources needed to be integrated in ways that brought out the complex linkages between children-s environments and their health, she said.


The full text of Prof. McGlade's speech is available at http://org.eea.europa.eu/documents/speeches/24-06-2004.


In the sidelines of the conference Prof. McGlade and Marc Danzon, WHO's Regional Director for Europe, launched the first computer game specifically designed to raise children's awareness about health and environment issues. European Commissioner for Environment Margot Wallström participated in the launch event.


Titled Honoloko, the island of environment and health, the educational game for 10 to 14 year-olds was developed jointly by the EEA and WHO/Europe for the Budapest conference. It is available for free at http://www.honoloko.org or on CD-ROM and will be translated into the 25 languages of the EEA member countries as well as Russian.


The game is also a key component of a new "kids' zone" that has been added to the EEA website at http://ecoagents.eea.europa.eu.


Note to Editors


WHO/Europe's Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health is taking place in Budapest, Hungary from 23 to 25 June under the motto The future for our children. The conference is expected to approve a Children's Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe and issue a ministerial declaration. Draft texts and other information on the conference are available at http://www.euro.who.int/budapest2004.






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