Children require special protection because they are more vulnerable to the effects of environmental hazards. Children receive greater exposures per unit of body weight than adults, and they are more susceptible to their effects because of their immature and developing systems. The fetus has been found to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposures. Children are also more likely to have accidents and be injured. In addition, because children have more years to live than most adults, they have more time to develop diseases with long latency periods such as cancer, more years of life to be lost and more suffering to be endured as a result of disability, impaired health or the loss of human functions such as the ability to procreate.
Health care providers, including physicians and nurses, should be trained in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of pediatric environmental health hazards. A broad spectrum of service providers such as physicians, social workers, teachers, school nurses, community members, and parents should be educated about pediatric environmental health issues. Funding is required for patient education regarding pediatric environmental health.
The Declaration of the Environmental Leaders of the Eight on Children's Environmental Health should serve as the framework for all European countries to follow, particularly the policy approaches that it lays down, which include: (a) Preventing exposure is the most effective way of protecting children's health from environmental threats. Governments should therefore develop policies that seek to prevent childhood diseases by preventing exposures to environmental agents, on the basis of the precautionary principle. (b) National policies should take into account the specific exposure pathways and dose-response characteristics of children when conducting environmental risk assessment and setting protective standards. (c) Research should be promoted in order to gain a better understanding of the particular exposure and sensitivities of infants and children to environmental hazards. Exchange of information on research results and the development of regulatory systems should also be promoted. (d) Awareness of the environment and health should be promoted, so as to enable families to better protect their children's health.