Press Release

Contaminated environment jeopardizes our children's health

Change language
Press Release Published 15 Apr 2002 Last modified 28 Jun 2016
3 min read

Press release EURO 08/02

Copenhagen and Brussels, 15 April 2002

Logo WHO

Contaminated environment jeopardizes
our children's health

WHO Regional Office for Europe and the European Environment Agency present Children's health and environment: a review of evidence

Investing in child health is essential to ensure human and economic development, and children's health needs to be protected from environmental threats,” says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe. Today in Brussels, on the occasion of the opening of Green Week 2002 by Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, WHO and the European Environment Agency (EEA) jointly launch the monograph Children's health and environment: a review of evidence. "This publication shows that European governments and institutions can collaborate to protect children from environmental threats. This goal lies at the very heart of sustainable development and is a challenge for the future of today's and tomorrow's generations,” adds Dr Danzon.

Up to 40% of the global burden of disease attributable to environmental factors is estimated to fall on children under the age of 5 years. As developing organisms, children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of environmental pollution. This is so for a variety of reasons, which include the following:

  • early exposure has long-term consequences;
  • children have a unique susceptibility to specific chemicals, and are exposed to substances in their immediate environment (such as soil and toys), particularly through their practice of picking things up and putting them into their mouths; and
  • in proportion to their body weight, children breathe, drink and eat more than adults, with a consequently higher uptake of potentially toxic substances.

Further, children have no choice about the factors to which they are exposed. They are also likely to be the most "sensitive indicators” for the environmental health of populations.

On this basis, European ministers at the Third Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in 1999 made a strong commitment to protect children and to develop key indicators for children's health and the environment.

"The European Union is setting the issue of children's environment and health high on the political agenda. The link between environmental degradation and poor health is clearly established, but we need further research in order to improve our understanding of these complex issues. The joint WHO--EEA publication is therefore a very welcome contribution in our efforts to prepare policy responses to the threats that a bad environment poses to children's health,” remarks Ms Margot Wallström, European Commissioner for the Environment.

In the WHO European Region, the rise of hazards in the settings where children live, learn and play is increasing concern about the effects on children's health of the deterioration and contamination of the physical environment.

"Children are at risk of exposure to more than 15 000 synthetic chemicals, almost all developed in the last 50 years, and to a variety of physical agents, such as polluted indoor and outdoor air, road traffic, contaminated food and water, unsafe buildings, contaminants in toys, radiation and environmental tobacco smoke,” points out Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, EEA Executive Director. The spread of disorders possibly associated with environmental factors (asthma, injuries, neurodevelopmental disorders, cancer, and food- and waterborne diseases) is reaching unacceptably high levels in many cases. "Close cooperation between environmental and health organizations is vital, not least to minimize duplication of efforts,” adds Mr Jiménez-Beltrán.

Details of the book's findings can be found on the Regional Office Web site (


Factsheet (PDF)


For more information please contact:


Dr Ondine von Ehrenstein
Children's Health and Environment
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health
Rome Operational Division
Via Francesco Crispi, 10
I-00187 Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39 06 4877549
Fax: +39 06 4877599


Ms Cristiana Salvi
Health Impact of Environmental and Development Policies
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health
Rome Operational Division
Via Francesco Crispi
10 I-00187 Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39 06 4877543
Mobile: +39 388 6098878
Fax: +39 06 4877599

Mr Tony Carritt
Media Relations and Communication Manager
European Environment Agency
Kongens Nytorv 6
DK-1050 Copenhagen K, Denmark
Tel.: +45 3336 7147
Mobile: +45 2368 3669
Fax: +45 3336 7198

Ms Vivienne Taylor Gee
Environment and Health Coordination and Partnership
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8
DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel.: +45 3917 1343
Fax: +45 3917 1880



Document Actions