Page 5590 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 9 December 2009

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building materials in one of the environments that children spend a significant time of their lives in, and that is schools. Many people say children are our future, and it is incumbent upon us to provide a healthy present as well as a healthy future for them. Protecting the health of children and ensuring that children live, learn and play in environments that allow them to reach their full potential as individuals and contributing members of society is an intrinsic component of sustainable development.

There is a very close link between the physical environments that children occupy and the quality of their lives. The ACT Greens believe it is critical that we incorporate the concerns of children into relevant policies for development at local and national levels.

We commend the work committed to by the ACT government in relation to making Canberra a child-friendly city under the guidance of the principles set out under the United Nations framework for cities to keep children at the heart of their planning processes. This is a commitment made in the ALP-Greens parliamentary agreement.

The ACT government has set up a whole-of-government committee to ensure children’s needs are up front and foremost in the decisions made by the government. It is hoped that a commitment to the needs of children to be given opportunities to grow in healthy, safe and clean environments will find the support of the Assembly today.

We know that toxic substances in the form of cleaning products and building materials are liberally accessed throughout the developed world. Internationally there is growing recognition of the evidence of persistent bio-cumulative toxics, PBTs, in children. As scientific understanding of the linkages between health and the environment continues to evolve, we are finding the developing foetus and children can be especially vulnerable to some environmental exposures such as exposures to certain chemicals.

The effects of such exposure depend upon chemical toxicity, dose, timing and amount of exposure as well as other factors. Poverty, malnutrition and other stressful circumstances exacerbate a child’s susceptibility to these environmental hazards, and these hazards can in turn further exacerbate poverty and worsen environmental conditions.

Governments and stakeholders must take action to reduce chemical risks and prevent childhood exposure. Children are vulnerable for a range of reasons. They have a smaller body mass and therefore have increased potential for excessive exposure. They have higher respiration and a higher metabolic rate than adults. They are less able to metabolise chemicals in comparison to adults.

Children also have a greater exposure to chemicals in the lower layers of air and the environments they use. Volatile organic compounds, VOCs, in cleaning products can affect indoor air quality and also contribute to smog formation in outdoor air. Children spend a lot more time on carpets and the floor and exploring their environments; therefore hand to mouth exposure is also higher.

Some of the largest concerns in recent times include the increasing rates of asthma and anaphylaxis in children. The prevalence of asthma in people aged five to 34 years

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