Collectivités salubres pour nos enfants

Peu de personnes voudraient argumenter contre l'importance de donner à nos enfants un environnement sécuritaire et sain pour grandir et apprendre. C'est dans des environnements salubres que l'on retrouve des personnes en santé. Moins un corps est exposé aux toxines, le plus susceptible est-il de mieux combattre les maladies virales, les blessures et les stress. 

L'enjeu est donc de nous assurer que notre environnement est sécuritaire, spécialement celui des enfants en croissance. Cet article étudie pourquoi les enfants sont plus vulnérables que les adultes aux maladies environnementales.

Child Proofing Our

Stacey Vaeth Gonzalez
Child Proofing Our Communities Coordinator
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice
April 2005

the importance of children having a safe and healthy place to grow and learn is not an issue many would debate. Healthy surroundings lead to healthier people. The less environmental toxins a body has to deal with, the better it can ward off viral illness, injury and stress. The question becomes, then, what can we do to ensure our environment is safe, especially for growing children?

(photo: CHEJ)

First, let's take a look at children's growing systems, and why they are more vulnerable than those of adults:

Children continue to develop through adolescence. (Needleman, 1994)i

As structures and vital connections develop during these critical years, body systems are not suited to repair damage caused by toxins, therefore damage and dysfunction from chemical exposures is likely permanent and irreversible. (Landrigan, 1998)ii

Children consume more calories, drink more water, and breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Their natural curiosity, tendency to explore, and inclination to place their hands in their mouths opens them to health risks adults might avoid, such as increased exposure to contaminated dust and soil, pesticide and fertilizer residues, chemicals used to disinfect or clean, and other potentially hazardous substances.

Children are currently exposed to unprecedented amounts of chemicals. In one British study, children as young as nine had on average 25% more manufactured chemicals in their blood than their living grandparents. The children also had higher concentrations of some of these chemicals, which are suspected of inhibiting neurological and endocrine system development .iii

Arming ourselves with the knowledge of children's special vulnerabilities is the first step in protecting our children; reducing their exposure to things that might hurt them is the second step. Just like we place a safety gate at the top of the stairs to prevent young children from falling, just like we urge our children to not smoke, we should also try to prevent exposures to environmental toxins.

(photo: CHEJ)


Pesticides are proven to cause reproductive, endocrine, respiratory, skin, and other diseases, as well as cancer. Pesticides persist and build up if surfaces are not thoroughly cleaned, a common problem with the budget constraints of schools. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an alternative system to pesticides use, and is proven to control pests more effectively.

Cleaning Products

One out of every three cleaning products contains harmful ingredients that can cause skin and eye irritation, cancer, or reproductive disordersiv. Non-toxic, effective and equally priced cleaning materials are commercially available for home and institutional use.

Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) Systems and Building Design

Well functioning HVAC systems are extremely important in homes and schools. Performing annual maintenance, routinely changing the air filters and removing anything that blocks air intake vents will help increase air flow. Schools may face the problem of idling buses, cars and trucks near ventilation intakes which draw exhaust into the building. Simply creating "No Idling Zones" near the building eliminates this direct exposure to hazardous fumes.

Outdated building design is an issue schools and homeowners can address when planning to remodel or expand. Poor design can lead to a lack of fresh air from inoperable windows, classrooms without adequate ventilation from the HVAC system and dampness caused by leaking roofs, flooded basements, or leaking pipes. Dampness can lead to mold growth, which can cause severe lifelong allergies, skin diseases, asthma and chemical sensitivities in children and adults.

New construction materials can be chosen based on their non-toxicity, such as alternatives to carpeting (which can trap dust and debris, and whose backings will off-gas toxic volatile organic compounds or VOC's), low VOC paint, non-toxic cleaning products and the like.

So, now with all this knowledge, what can we do? Considering that a United States Environmental Protection Agency review found that 43% of the 2,863 most commonly used chemicals had no toxicity information available, and only 7% had complete toxicity datav, exercising prevention and precaution in our daily actions is a must.

(photo: CHEJ)

Actions We Can Take

Schools can improve the quality of their environments with little change to their bottom line or daily operations. Purchasing and using non-toxic cleaning, construction, and school supplies can eliminate exposures to harmful chemicals. Implementing an IPM policy to replace the use of pesticides and herbicides can greatly improve the quality of indoor and outdoor air. Creating "No Idling" Zones on school property can decrease children and staff exposures to diesel fumes. Repairing a leaking roof, HVAC system, shower or sink can decrease ambient humidity and reduce sources of mold growth. Removing carpets in the building can eliminate sources of dust, mold and other allergens and removing arsenic-treated wooden playground sets can reduce children's exposures to dangerous chemicals.

Parents, teachers, staff, administration and students can take an active role in researching and implementing protective, school based policies and practices that protect human health and the environment. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice's Green Flag School Program (  helps schools develop protective, proactive and educational programs to make their schools healthier places to learn! This flexible awards based program is free of charge and abounds with valuable resources and ideas for schools of all types.

(photo: CHEJ)

On the home front, we can take protective actions today. Buying organic food, non-toxic cleaning products, and seeking alternatives to chemical pest management are three easy and incredibly effective ways to reduce toxic exposures. Additionally, when doing home improvements, seek the least toxic alternatives for house paint, deck stain, flooring, and wood treatments. Alternatives to fit every bank account and personal style exist - just do a little research, and you're there!

For more information on how to make your school and home healthier places, contact the Center for Health, Environment and Justice at (703) 237 - 2249 or visit us on the web at

[i] Needleman, H.L. and Landrigan, P.J. (1994) Raising Children Toxic Free, New York , NY : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

[ii] Landrigan, P.J., Carlson, J.E., Bearer, C.F., Cranmer, J.S., Bullard, R.D., Etzel, R.A., Groopman, J., McLachlan, J.A., Perera, F.P., Reigart, J.R., Lobixon, L., Schell, L., and Suk, W.A. (1998) “Children’s health and the environment:  A new agenda for preventive research.” Environmental Health Perspectives 106 (Supplement 3): 787-794, June.

[iii] WWF-UK Chemicals and Health campaign and The Co-operative Bank (2004) Contaminated: the next generation, October.

[iv] The Center for a New American Dream,

[v] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) (1998b) Chemical Hazard Availability Study, USEPA Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, Washington , DC . Available on the web at: