Advice from Dr. Irena Buka with the Children’s Environmental Health Clinic (ChEHC) at the Misericordia Hospital. Her team’s expertise is world renowned. The clinic is a World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating centre.
Children may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults for two main reasons:
Irena feels knowing the risks can provide parents with an opportunity to take precautions.
Carbon monoxide – ChEHC at the Misercordia Hospital treats long-term survivors, and Irena says small frequent doses can be neurotoxic. They can impair children’s development and impair memory and quality of life for adults.
Irena says carbon monoxide can get from an attached garage to an upstairs bedroom and linger there for a long time.
Renovations – Canadians do a lot of home renovations, and renovations generate a lot of dust, which can trigger respiratory issues. When dust particles get into our lungs, the very small ones can be absorbed into our body. Irena says the paints and glues we use may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be carcinogenic. Mould can also be uncovered, which is a concern.
Household dust – Dust exposure in the home is a trigger for respiratory symptoms, especially asthma. Irena explains that household dust has been shown to contain all sorts of chemicals that also may be harmful to children. Our furniture, carpets and textiles are sprayed for stain and fire resistance. These materials contain organobromine compounds, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, which Irena says researchers are now discovering in human breast milk, the top of the human food chain.
The Health Canada Air Quality Health Index reports on cities across Canada and rates air quality on a scale of 1 to 10. When the Fort McMurray fires were raging, it was 13 to 14 most days within the city. You will hear the media reference the index on days the rating is extreme. They mention the groups at highest risk, which include young, active children. Irena has been working with the Edmonton Soccer Association to help the organization use the index to determine when to cancel games or take certain children out when the rating is high.
Irena says we all should be using the tool. Children need regular and frequent exercise, so consider indoor playgrounds and gyms when outdoor air quality is poorer.
Fish consumption –Fish is an important nutrient for children but it attracts pollutants such as mercury, which is toxic to human health, posing a particular threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.
The pollutants sit under the skin of the fish and are higher in larger fish.
Irena says it is very important to not stop eating fish altogether because some nutrients key to brain development are only found in fish.
Pesticides – It is important to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, but choosing carefully is important.
Food colouring – Irena says studies have shown that eliminating food colouring from the diet of some children has made a small difference in their behaviour. Based on that research, she does not believe it is reasonable for parents to try to remove all dyes from their child’s diet. But she does feel strongly that parents should avoid the obvious.
To receive care from Irena and her colleagues at the Children’s Environmental Health Clinic (ChEHC) at the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton, you must receive a referral from your family physician.
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