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The Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment (CPCHE) calls for Action to Protect Children from Hazardous Chemicals in Consumer Products

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I Introduction

In December, 2008, the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment (CPCHE), a partnership of 11 environmental, public health, medical and child care groups, launched First Steps in Lifelong Health: A Vision and Strategy for Children's Health and Environment in Canada. The document defines CPCHE's vision for children's environmental health in Canada and sets forth a comprehensive strategy in three core areas: research, law and policy, and on-the-ground protection. Among the priority actions highlighted in the document is a call for improvements in the federal government's approach to regulating chemicals in consumer products.

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II Overview

"Products that we bring into our homes- from cleaning products to furniture and electronics, from pesticides to air fresheners - too often contain substances that do or could disrupt the normal development of the brain and other organs of a fetus or child." says Dr. Lynn Marshall, a physician with the Environmental Health Clinic at Women's College Hospital, one of the CPCHE partner groups. "Children are more vulnerable than adults to environmental contaminants because their bodies are undergoing rapid development and their behaviours - such as crawling on the floor and putting things in their mouths - put them in contact with contaminants found in the home, including many that are in ordinary house dust."

Research shows that many of those contaminants come from consumer products. The polybrominated flame retardants found in TVs and computers, the phthalates found in soft vinyl toys and many personal care products, and bisphenol A (BPA), the plastic additive found in the lining of food cans and in many rigid plastic containers, are among the chemicals targeted by CPCHE for urgent action.

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III Recommendations for the Federal Government

CPCHE is recommending that the federal government improve its regulation of chemicals and secure the legislative power to issue mandatory recalls of products when problems are discovered. The partners are also calling on the government to empower parents with information via labeling and other means. "It is unacceptable that children continue to be put at risk from lead found in common consumer products, such as toys, key chains and costume jewelry," says Kathleen Cooper, senior researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, a CPCHE partner.  

There is much to learn about the risks posed by thousands of chemicals that are in commerce today - most of which have not been tested for their potential to adversely affect the developing fetus and child. "But lack of full scientific certainty is no excuse for inaction." says Barbara McElgunn, Health Policy Advisor with the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, another CPCHE partner.  

CPCHE is calling on the federal government to take precautionary action to reduce children's exposures to chemicals that are known or reasonably suspected to pose health risks. CPCHE is also calling for more research on how chronic exposure to environmental contaminants may be contributing to worrisome trends in child health in Canada and other industrialized countries, including rising rates of asthma, learning disabilities and other developmental challenges.
 
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IV What Can You Do to Protect Children from Toxic Chemicals?

While changes at the policy level are essential, there are many things that we can do at the individual and community levels to protect our children from exposure to toxic chemicals and environmental contaminants. The CPCHE partners have created a series of resources that provide childproofing tips and suggestions to create healthy environments for children.

Child Health and Environment - A Primer provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to the complex topic of children's environmental health. Readers will gain an understanding of why the developing fetus and child are often more exposed and more vulnerable to the potential risks posed by toxic chemicals and pollutants, including types and pathways of exposure and health outcomes of concern. The Primer explains many of the risks to children posed by environmental exposures and extends the metaphor of "childproofing" - something every parent and care giver understands - to focus on prevention.

Playing is Safe: Childproofing for Environmental Health, a colorful fold-out brochure provides an introduction to children's environmental health issues and offers practical tips for pregnant women, parents, and child care practitioners.

Playing it Safe - Service Provider Strategies to Reduce Environmental Risks to Preconception, Prenatal and Child Health. This resource was developed by CPCHE in partnership with Best Start (Ontario's Maternal, Newborn and Early Child Development Resource Centre) to help health and child care professionals prevent or reduce children's environmental exposures through action at the community or societal level.  

A Father's Day Report: Men, Boys and Environmental Health Threats was developed by CPCHE in light of increasing evidence that boys are disproportionately affected by cancer, asthma, learning and behavioural disorders, and some birth defects, as compared to girls. The report summarizes available scientific information on the potential contribution of environmental exposures to these health outcomes and explores the reasons that boys may be more vulnerable to certain effects. It also examines the role fathers play in ensuring children's environmental health.

Fact Sheets: CPCHE has an ever-growing set of fact sheets on specific topics of interest. Current fact sheets address: safe renovations, solvents, lead in paint, lead in drinking water, asbestos, lead in consumer products, and carpets. Each fact sheet summarizes the issue and provides practical exposure reduction tips.

Special Collections: Users of the CPCHE website have access to a wealth of information and resources contained in special collections on hot topics including chemicals in household products, bisphenol A, phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, lead and mercury (legacy chemicals), toy safety, consumer products, PVC and other plastics, and much more.

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V Resources

First Steps in Lifelong Health: A Vision and Strategy for Children's Health and Environment is available on the CPCHE website, in English and French, at http://www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca

CPCHE is engaged in an innovative partnership with Today's Parent, through which the magazine's 1.8 million readers will be invited to voice their support for policy changes that will make Canada a healthier place to grow up (http://www.todaysparent.com/healthykids2009). The initiative was inspired by Reaching for the Top, a seminal report by Dr. K. Kellie Leitch, Advisor on Healthy Children and Youth to the former federal Minister of Health. CPCHE is working with Today's Parent on a 3-issue series in Fall 2009 on environment and health.

For links to this policy change initiative, to download CPCHE materials and for more environmental health childproofing tips, visit the CPCHE website at: http://www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca.

For more information, contact Erica Phipps, Partnership Director, Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment, at (819) 458-3750 or [email protected].

CPCHE partners