Pollutants More Likely To Hit Underprivileged Children | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.08.2007

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Pollutants More Likely To Hit Underprivileged Children

A nationwide study in Germany on environmental hazards has shown alarming results. Children from underprivileged families are more likely to be exposed to pollutants than their higher-income counterparts.

Various pollutants are making children more susceptible to illnesses

Various pollutants are making children more susceptible to illnesses

Germany's children are being exposed to a wide range of harmful pollutants, according to a nationwide study by the Federal Environment Agency UBA.

UBA's president Andreas Troge said all of those children surveyed showed concentrations of organochloride substances, including the poisonous pesticide DDT. Although substances such as DDT have been banned for decades, they are still stored in people's fat tissue and are thought to be passed on to children when they are nursed.

In addition, Troge said it was "alarming" that softening agents for plastics were detectable in all of the children's urine.

"There are certain substances which we are truly worried about," Troge said at the study's presentation in Berlin on Tuesday. He said it was unclear how they could enter the human body. But it was assumed that these were not due to small children's plastic toys. Rather food packaging could be responsible, he said, such as the seals on twist-off lids or foils which have direct contact to fatty foods.

The Child Environment Survey examined 1,790 children between the ages of three and 14 from 2003 to 2006. It is the first representative study available on German children's exposure to harmful substances, UBA said.

Smoking is the homemade danger

Raucher raucht Zigarette - Weltnichtrauchertag

Smoking continues to be the number one pollutant for children

The major pollutant indoors continued to be tobacco smoke, Troge said. About half of those children surveyed were exposed to smoke in the home.

There had been a noticeable change for the worse in Germany's eastern states, the report showed. Mothers in eastern Germany were increasingly smoking, and therefore increasingly exposing their children to smoke. This led to more frequent inflammation of the middle ear as well as susceptibility to other infections, the survey said.

"We can only appeal to parents' particular responsibility here," Troge said.

Social class also played a role. Those children from lower class families were more exposed to second-hand smoke than those from higher-income groups.

Noise pollution disturbs many children

Troge said it was also striking that 14 percent of the children surveyed showed hearing loss. Six percent felt disturbed by street and aircraft noise.

Deutschland Verkehr Feinstaub Auto Autoverkehr in Dortmund

The health hazards of traffic are often underestimated

"Traffic is a dominating source of noise and we can't underestimate its negative effects," Troge said. "Noise affects our entire organism and promotes sleep, concentration and metabolic disorders, as well as high blood pressure and heart disease."

The underprivileged were more affected by noise pollution than high-income families, he said. This was due to the fact that people with lower incomes more often lived in inexpensive but unattractive areas, for example along busy roads. This also led to higher lead contents in the blood of children from lower-income families.

Environment minister Sigmar Gabriel, who also attended the study's presentation, called on local authorities to introduce anti-noise policies not only for the rich, but also for those less well-off. Gabriel said it was a question of "ecological justice."

Fruit juice contained more pesticides

Troge said it was surprising that the exposure of children to harmful molds was growing. Eight percent of those children surveyed showed high sensitivity to indoor mold, which can cause allergies or respiratory illnesses.

According to UBA, this development could be traced back to the increased spread of such molds indoors, which had to do with poor ventilation in better insulated homes.

Children from higher-income families, however, also showed traces of harmful substances, for example organophosphate pesticides. Troge said he assumed this could be traced to fruit juices, which they're more likely to drink.

But Troge said there were also positive results in the study. Children were less exposed to heavy metals, the wood preservative pentachlorophenol (PCP) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons than was the case at the beginning of the 1990s.

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