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Global Effort Aims to Reduce Children’s Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

Friday, September 23, 2016

A new report for the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child contends that protection from toxic pollution should be considered a basic human right.

Baskut Tuncak, a chemist and senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington and the U.N. Special Rapporteur to the U.N. Human Rights Council, cited a World Health Organization estimate that more than 1.5 million children under five years old die yearly from exposure to toxic pollutants.

“In one country, childhood cancer rates have increased nearly 20 percent over a 20-year span,” he said. “Types of diabetes are now seen in children that were previously only observed in adults. Rates of asthma, early puberty and birth defects have also increased dramatically. Most of these and other increases cannot be explained by lifestyle choices or genetics alone, and have come during periods of rapid industrialization.”

EWG has worked for decades to highlight risks posed by toxic chemicals in the United States, and to ensure stronger health protection for children and other vulnerable groups.

U.S. air is generally cleaner than that in many other countries, and people enjoy restrictions on lead, mercury and the most damaging pesticides. However, children are still exposed to dozens of harmful chemicals daily, with many measured in umbilical cord blood samples, breast milk and in children’s bodies directly.

EWG advocates stronger protections for children from numerous pollutants, including lead in paint, arsenic and chromium in drinking water, and asbestos in schools.

But increasingly, our attention turns to chemicals intentionally added to consumer products to make them stain-resistant, antibacterial, flame resistant or more durable. Many of these additives pose safety hazards to children, and are widely detected in dust samples collected from American homes.

American preferences for conveniences such as grease-proof food wrappers and stain-resistant carpets spread persistent contaminants to distant places, while electronic waste is shipped to countries with few restrictions on child labor and waste disposal.

While EWG works to strengthen the health of American children, we join the U.N. Rapporteur in his call for stronger protections for children around the globe. The U.S. has signed but has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which would compel governments to identify and protect children from chemical hazards at home and at work.

We intend to reverse the burden of proof so that the victims of toxic chemical exposures are not responsible for proving harm. Instead, we want to shift the burden onto companies who profit from the production and sale of toxic substances. The High Commissioner of the U.N.  Human Rights Council has an website where people can learn more and submit complaints about situations that should be investigated.  


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