JOURNAL ARTICLE

The sentinel role of poisons centers in the protection of children's environmental health

Jenny Pronczuk de Garbino
Journal of Toxicology. Clinical Toxicology 2002, 40 (4): 493-7
12217002
Growing concern exists about the threats posed by environmental pollutants and physical agents on children's health. A number offactors, including globalization, increased industrialization, and trade of chemicals and poverty have an impact on the quality of the environment and on children's health. Acute toxic exposures lead to poisoning, and chronic low-level exposures may cause functional and organ damage during periods of special vulnerability. The need to protect children's environmental health is urgent, in view of the magnitude of the problem and the fact that "children are not little adults." The effects suffered during special developmental periods-"windows of vulnerability"-can be permanent and irreversible. The main global environmental problems affecting children's health are lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation and exposure to indoor air pollution. Furthermore, environmentally related accidents, injuries, and poisonings have a major impact on children and adolescent's morbidity and mortality. A number of examples that illustrate the complexity of assessing and dealing with children's environmental health issues are presented. A Task Force on the Protection of Children's Environmental Health that aims to prevent disease and disability in children associated with chemical and physical threats was set up in 1999 by the World Health Organization. The priorities for action include the consideration of accidents, injuries, and poisonings (accidental, intentional, and occupational), and children in the workplace (e.g., scavenging children, children in cottage industries). Poisons Centers and related toxicology centers are in a strategic position to play a "sentinel" role in the protection of children's environmental health. They record acute and chronic toxic exposures in children in a harmonized manner, using controlled vocabularies and definitions. This will allow collecting a large, highly valuable database on the main toxicological problems affecting children, including those of environmental origin. The analysis of observations entered in such a database will help assess the burden of disease and collect the evidence for planning prevention and promoting regulatory measures. Centers are called to play a proactive role in raising awareness about children's environmental health and contribute to research, information dissemination, training, and other activities required for the protection of children's health and development.

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