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European Commission Adopts Environmental Health Strategy with Focus on Children
(Beyond Pesticides, June 16, 2003) The European Commission announced on June 11, 2003 a massive new undertaking, European Environment and Health Strategy, to reduce diseases caused by environmental factors, particularly as they affect children. The first cycle of the strategy, 2004 - 2010, will focus on four health effects: childhood respiratory diseases, asthma, allergies, neurodevelopment disorders, childhood cancer, and endocrine disrupting effects. The Action Plan will be presented prior to the Inter-Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Budapest in June 2004, focusing particularly on children's health and environment.

The Commission cites that throughout Europe 10 percent of children suffer from asthmatic symptoms, with dramatic increases over the last 30 years. According to the EC, in the United Kingdom alone, the total annual cost of asthma is estimated at over EUR 3.9 billion.

Margot Wallstrm, Commissioner for the Environment, said: "A healthy environment is not a privilege but a basic human right. The reality, however, is quite different. Many European citizens, and specially children, suffer from illnesses caused by environmental pollution. Children are at the very heart of sustainable development. Therefore we must aim for their "best achievable health", as required by the UN Convention on Children's Rights. What is good for our children is good for the present and future of our society as a whole."

David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said: Until now environment and health policy have been insufficiently integrated. It has been difficult to properly address cause-effect relationships between environmental threats and adverse health effects. The proposed strategy aims to improve the integration of information and research on the state of the environment, ecosystem and human health in order to achieve a better understanding of the environmental threats to human health. If the future action plan is properly implemented, a significant range of multi-factual health determinant data will be available to health policymakers for decision-making."

European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "Around 25-33% of diseases in industrialized countries are due to environmental factors and we need to continue our efforts to better understand the underlying causes. The interaction between the environment and the human genome represents one of the new scientific frontiers, and better knowledge about it should help to clarify the complex links between environment and health. European research will then provide key knowledge to better target and implement action and policy-making at EU and national level."

The strategy is known as SCALE and relies on five key elements, quoting from the Commission:

*It will be based on Science to broaden our perspective on the often very complex link between environment and health. Traditionally, environmental assessments and policy action have focused on single pollutants in single environmental compartments, such as air, water or soil. There is, however, a strong need to look into how different pollutant react together. We need to understand better how pollutants move in the environment and how we come in contact with them - through air, water, food, and consumer products. We also need to understand how the human body reacts, over a period of time, to the continuous exposure to different pollutants, inter-acting between each others, often at a low level.

*We will focus on Children since they are particularly vulnerable to environmental hazards. There are 157 million children in Europe. Most of them live in urban areas with particular environmental problems that must be addressed. The Commission will be launching pilot actions on pollutants with specific relevance to children, including dioxins, heavy metals and endocrine disrupters (chemicals that affect the hormone system). Together with the World Health Organization, WHO, and the EU Member States, we will establish indicators and bio-monitoring systems that will help us better to understand where, how and why children are affected.

*We have to raise Awareness of the environmental-health problems and how they can be solved. Citizens have the right to know about these problems, in particular those affecting children. Policy-makers and stakeholders from both the environmental and health sector must increase their efforts to communicate, both across the sectors and with the citizens.

*The EU Legislation will complement national and international initiatives. It will be reviewed to reflect the special situation and needs of children.

*All actions taken under the strategy will be evaluated continuously. We will verify how effective they are in reducing environmental-related health problems. A constant evaluation will also allow us to address new problems as they emerge.

A copy of the video "Children's Environment and Health" can be ordered at http://www.tvlink.org
Sources: Europe's Environment: the third assessment. European Environment Agency (EEA). 2003. Children's Health in Europe Tackling environmental threats. European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) 2003. Children's Health and Environment:: a review of evidence. WHO/EEA.2002.