|WIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 08, No. 2 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1996, 16 pages)|
Steven A. Esrey, Ph.D.
Humans and waste go hand in hand. In the last decades problems of toxic waste have gained prominence in the media. Differences exist between scientists and the general public on the importance of certain toxic wastes, whether or not public or private action is needed, and if so, how to proceed.
This paper develops a conceptual framework for understanding toxic waste and child development using three examples: lead, infectious disease agents and pesticides. A toxic waste is a useless, superfluous or discarded substance that causes illness or death when eaten, drunk or inhaled. Children are also not miniature adults. They have different exposures and susceptibilities to toxic wastes, which make them more vulnerable to the adverse health effects. Once the toxic waste enters the child's environment, it can be transmitted through various channels (e.g., air, water, soil and food) and absorbed through a variety of routes (e.g., placenta, skin, lungs and digestive tract). If healthy children are exposed to toxic wastes at certain levels, they will become diseased. If the disease is severe enough, they will die. Between health and death three points of intervention exist: primary (between health and exposure), secondary (between exposure and disease) and tertiary (between disease and death). Primary interventions are health care, whereas secondary and tertiary interventions are disease care. Usually several, complimentary, primary interventions are required to prevent exposure, thus highlighting the need for complimentary interventions for health and disease care. Primary interventions fall into two types of categories: individual and societal. If individuals have the knowledge, they usually have the capacity to minimize their exposure by simple actions. Societal interventions require a more concerted effort to prevent the toxic waste from gaining access to the environment or to remove the toxic waste from the environment when present.