Guest Post: The Jerusalem Statement on Children’s Environmental Health

  • April 3, 2014
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Guest blogger Jerome Paulson details INCHES’ Jerusalem Statement on children’s global health

Here at HSC, we focus our efforts every day on the goal of ensuring that all children have access to healthy school environments, from the air they breathe to the food they eat and the opportunities they have to be physically active at school. We work on the ground in schools and the community and use these experiences to inform our policy efforts.

As we continue this effort on the ground in Chicago and with advocates across the nation, it is encouraging to step back and recognize that this work is part of an international movement to protect and promote children’s health.

Recently, our friend and colleague Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP, had the opportunity to be part of an international gathering of leaders focused on the critical issues of children’s environmental health. As they gathered in Jerusalem for the meeting of the International Network on Children’s Health, Environment and Safety, members of this group developed a manifesto titled simply the “Jerusalem Statement.” This statement takes on issues threatening children’s health and safety worldwide — including war, terror, child labor and trafficking — and calls attention to the universal health and environment issues that we must all work to address.

In this global perspective, we found statements with powerful relevance to our work on the ground in schools and efforts to change policy. For example:

We commit ourselves:

To increase the awareness of policy makers, governmental and non-governmental agencies, the industry and the public opinion, that investing in prevention of children's environmental and safety hazards is greatly cost-effective, convenient and beneficial for the society, economic growth and better future of mankind. . .

We affirm:

That all children have the right to safe, clean and supportive environments that ensure their survival, growth, development, healthy life and well-being; That children require easy and safe access to healthy outdoor spaces to play as essential to their health and development. . .

Today, we are honored to share a guest post from Jerome about the Jerusalem Statement and the issues it addresses.

by Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP, Director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Child Health Advocacy Institute, Children’s National Health System and Professor of Pediatrics and of Environmental & Occupational Health, George Washington University

Environmental health problems are local; and they are more. Environmental health problems are regional; and they are more. Environmental health problems are national; and they are more. Environmental health problems are international.

As a human species, we have so fouled our own nest that:

  • Breast milk, while still the best food for infants, is full of contaminants

  • The Arctic is contaminated with chemicals that have never been manufactured there or used there

  • The oceans are contaminated with chemicals that have never been manufactured there or used there

  • The climate is changing and human activities are the primary drivers

The list goes on.

The humans who are responsible for the local, regional, national and global environmental problems may see themselves as belonging to different ethnic, racial, religious and political groupings. And while the reality is that there may be subtle differences between groups of individuals in the details of how they metabolize the environmental pollutants we’re talking about — including xenobiotics, lead, dioxins, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), CO2, plutonium 238 and 239, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, radon, formaldehyde, vanadium pentoxide and a host of other elements and compounds, both naturally occurring and human-made — these substances are toxic to all humans.

For the seventh time since 1998, the International Network on Children’s Health, Environment and Safety (INCHES) met in November 2013. This meeting took place in Jerusalem, Israel. Drawing physicians and scientists from Europe, Israel and North America, this meeting brought individuals together to exchange information on a wide range of children’s environmental health issues ranging from lead poisoning to climate change to smoking to pediatric environmental health specialty units.

The leadership of this meeting, Yona Amitai, the Israeli convener, Peter von den Hazel, President of INCHES, and Ruth Etzel, Chair of the Science Committee for the meeting, were determined that the meeting have an impact beyond the immediate participants and beyond the time individuals returned home. Hence, throughout the meeting, participants proceeded to develop the Jerusalem Statement. This document recognizes the wide range of dangers facing children around the world, from child labor to genocide and sex trafficking to habitat destruction.

It points out that globally, most diseases in children are related to environmental sources – both naturally occurring and human-made. For most environmentally-induced health problems there is management but no cure. Primary prevention is key; and a precautionary approach to potential health threats is the appropriate approach.

Meeting attendees committed themselves to working on the wide range of environmental health threats to children – from the local to the global. They committed themselves to working with children and adults, with local populations, government leaders and the business community. Attendees will promote the development and dissemination of international environmental health standards while working locally to make their own intuitions more sustainable.

The Jerusalem Statement is a manifesto that all can use for guidance, whether one attended the meeting or not. And, those of us who were there certainly hope that governmental agencies, transnational agencies, nongovernmental organizations and individuals will do so. The full text of the Jerusalem Statement can be found at inchesnetwork.net.