Governance Instruments That Protect Children`s Environmental Health: Is Enough Being Done?


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Abstract: We describe our efforts to find and assess governance instruments: laws, regulations, guidelines, addressing specifically the issue of children's environmental health in OECD countries in the European Union (EU) and in the United States of America (US). The ultimate purpose is to inform policy that will further Canada's commitment to children's environmental health.

Among governance instruments found, most EU country governance instruments duplicated EU Directives; American governance instalments were found at both the federal and state level. With a few clear exceptions, the effects of environmental agents on the child have not been considered specifically in those OECD governance instalments that address environmental health concerns. We found multiple governance instruments with a clear children's environmental health focus, but little emphasis on the uniqueness of children. We also found laws not specifically addressing children in the text, but which clearly involved concern for child health. Some legislation was impeded because of scientific uncertainty, which, on occasion, appeared to be industry-driven. The precautionary principle appeared to be applied most frequently in European legislation. We conclude that children's environmental health is not well-addressed for the majority of laws relating to the environment.


The stings and balms of early life can profoundly affect how a child2 grows and develops and ultimately functions as an adult. Many of these influences are unique to the child; but many are determined by society. Thus the air children breathe, the water they drink, the chemical composition of plastic food containers and the pesticide residues on their food are governed less by the individual choices of their parents than by the regulations that govern the environment within which they live. Over the years these regulations, assiduously applied, have significantly improved the general health not only of children, but of all humans. Most of these regulations have not been directly aimed at children; they have been incidental beneficiaries. Yet, there are times when children require special attention. This paper addresses such times. It reviews environmental governance instruments including laws, regulations, and guidelines in European OECD countries and the United States to evaluate if and how these instruments protect and promote children's environ¬mental health, which can be defined as 'those aspects of children's health that are determined by chemical, physical, biological, social and psychosocial factors in the environment'.3 This article argues that children require special consideration whenever legislators develop and implement governance instruments that regulate substances or conditions that affect normal human health and development. Specific attention to children is based on the fact that thousands of chemicals and other environmental agents can affect children adversely because of their unique physiological and developmental characteristics. The paper discusses exemplar governance instruments that do take children's needs into specific consideration and identifies gaps and weaknesses with respect to other governance instruments.

Chemical and radiological environmental agents are powerful determinants of foetal, child, and adult health, and a growing body of research reveals more and more about the harmful effects on humans of untimely or excessive environmental exposures - including some exposures previously considered safe.4 Because of the potential danger to humans of environmental agents, it is desirable that their release and use in the environment be regulated.

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