Chemical Exposure of Babies. Research in the European Community

A new 15 million euro research project has been launched to investigate exposure to chemicals in food and the environment and their connection with childhood cancer and immune disorders. The incidence of these conditions in European children has been accelerating in recent decades

The draft DEA policy on Childrens's Environmental Health states that children are routinely exposed to a number of hidden hazards from pollutants in air, water, food, soil and surfaces, and from consumer products. Children, from conception to adolescence, are particularly vulnerable to environmental pollutants because of their immature metabolism, greater exposure to pollutants relative to their body weight, and longer time to develop chronic diseases that take several decades to appear. Moreover, children have unique exposure patterns due to the particular environments in which they live, learn and play; these are ones over which they have no direct control. Environmental pollutants of concern in Australia include priority air toxics. persistent bioaccumulative toxins that are found in blood, fats and urine, and pesticides. Clearly the European project will have relevance to children in all western communities.

The project "NewGeneris was launched on 1 "February 2006 as a new European Integrated Reseach Project. It brings together 25 institutions from 16 European countries with a budget of 15 million euros over 5 years. It is part of the EU Environment and Health Strategy and will feed into ongoing debate surrounding proposals to assess and possibly ban chemical substances in the EU.

NewGeneris will look specifically into maternal exposure during pregnancy to carcinogenic and immunotoxic chemicals and their effect on young children after they are born. Diseases thought to be triggered by the presence of chemicals in humans include cancer, asthma, rhinitis and eczema/dermatitis.

To assess chical exposure, the researchers will analyse blood and urine samples from mothers and children taken across several 'biobanks' In Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Spain and Greece. In total around 300,000 mother and baby pairs will be studied.

The toxic chemicals selected for investigation include dioxins, PC'Bs, ethanol and other substances ingested by mothers or found in contaminated food, tobacco smoke or polluted air.

Ultimately, the project's aim is to contribute to the protection of child health through the formulation of improved health policies, more effective food regulations specially targeted at children and better food quality.