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The Campaign of the Doctors for the Environment for the "Right of Children to a Pollution-Free Life", proposed by the Italian Association of Doctors for the Environment, was approved in 1996 at the ISDE Directing Committee Meeting in Cortona and is a clear example of the involvement of GOs and NGOs in an effort to have approved modifications in national laws base on scientific evidence.
Toxic compounds which are emitted into the air, water, soil and subsoil and which are persistent and accumulate in living organisms are a factor in the onset of a number of ailments in human beings. In particular, they account for an increase in the number of tumours, in pathologies of the reproductive system, in changes in behaviour, in permanent neurological damage and in alterations to the immune and endocrine systems.
The higher level of environmental pollutants which people are exposed to is unquestionably linked to certain industrial productions and to the use which is made of certain industrial products, above all the automobile.
Even the interiors of buildings reveal dangerous situations because of the construction techniques and materials used.
Unfortunately, public opinion extends so widely and its effects are so capillary that it's extremely difficult to disseminate the right kind of information about the reality of the dangers connected with pollution; at the same time, people are bombarded with such a welter of publicity and information that they are distracted and confused.
Epidemiological evidence available today shows that even relatively low levels of pollution can have acute and chronic injurious effects, especially on the respiratory system.
Respiratory illnesses in infants are on the increase in western countries. Children exposed to smoking are especially susceptible to infections of the upper and lower respiratory tracts.
Among the atmospheric pollutants there are some substances which can increase the risk of tumours at much lower concentrations than were originally proved to be cancerogenous. They can interact with each other in an additive or even multiplicative manner. Furthermore, among these can be found certain substances which do not directly react with cellular genetic material but which nevertheless increase the risk of chronic degenerative diseases, including tumours, through indirect mechanisms.
Exposure to environmental contaminants may well begin even in the prenatal phase when the embryo and the fetus feel the consequences of the mother's exposure. The effects may be seen in the short term with deformations or interruptions to development but, indeed, they may not appear until years
later, in adulthood even.
In addition to direct contact or inhalation, children are especially exposed to harmful substances through the food they eat; they are growing and developing, their energy demands are higher and their metabolisms more rapid when compared with adults.
The Doctors for the Environment would also like to point out that it is necessary to investigate further and weigh the doubts that human health suffers from prolonged exposure to sources of electromagnetic energy like power cables, radiotelecommunications systems and electric appliances, especially with regard to evaluating the risk to children.
At the present time, the maximum limits of concentration of pollutants that the law allows are either based on an average which does not duly consider how different the effects may be on very young and very old persons or on those who are particularly weak or feeble, or the laws are based on compromises which look more towards containing costs and maintaining jobs than protecting health.
This premise provided the basis for a preliminary document which was drawn up during the ISDE Workshop in Florence on 27 February 1998 and which aimed at redefining the specific Italian laws safeguarding children's health and the quality of their lives as well as ratifying the right of children to live in a pollution-free environment.
After this preliminary document had been widely circulated in order to stimulate discussion and reflection on the issue, during the National Congress on the "Polluted Child", held in Arezzo 5-6 June 1998, a definitive text was drawn up by working groups composed by the principal government and
non-government national agencies. As a result, following 12 proposals were presented to the Italian government:
the limits of atmospheric pollutants should be lowered to levels that are safe for infants and the more vulnerable members of the community;
the ban on smoking in public places should be extended to include all places where children may be present;
as has already been done in many European countries, a law should be enacted to deal with radon which would give greater protection to children's health;
the mapping of installations which emanate electromagnetic emissions should be carried out and the legislation on the matter which is in the pipeline should be approved and brought up to date through further scientific studies on possible risks from exposure to these emissions;
the food which is served in nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools should not only have to conform to the correct nutritional standards but should not contain any toxic substances and, where possible, food products from organically farmed crops and animals should be served;
the concentration of toxic compounds in water should be limited to levels which guarantee the absence even of long-term damaging effects;
cleaning and sanitary products for use in schools and in the home should not contain toxic compounds;
products designed for use in early infancy as well as toys should not contain toxic products and should not constitute any form of danger to health;
the use of lead in petrol should be completely eliminated and its use should be banned in any products or materials which could be end up in food or drinking water;
urban and territorial planning should take health into consideration and more effective solutions should be adopted for reducing vehicular traffic and limiting noise pollution. It is also necessary to encourage and give incentives to alternative construction methods, such as bio-ecological and
there should be a program of community education which will help people to evaluate environmental problems and which sees doctors actively participating alongside other educating agencies.
In addition, at an international level, the Doctors for the Environment request that the Italian State should make a formal proposal to have an article included in the UN Convention of Children's Rights which ratifies their right to live in a pollution-free environment.
On 25 January 1999 there will be a further meeting in Rome to discuss what progress has been made on these proposals and in particular the "Roles and the responsibilities of international and national agencies with regard to the right of children to live a pollution-free life". The document itself and the methodology for putting it into effect was presented as a model to follow during the 1st International Conference on "Children's Health and the Environment" held in Amsterdam 11-13 August 1998. On this occasion a proposal also made for an international network on children's environmental health and safety - INCHES (see p.20).
The IDCEP represents an important aspect of the Association. At the same time it is extremely difficult to set it up in the short/medium term; for this reason we have established a permanent commission to study how it can best come about by evaluating the pilot experiences already in progress. The Documentation Centre therefore is a goal we are striving to achieve.
It seems that the working expertise groups are a realistic staring point because they are flexible and adaptable.
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