NWF View - Suffer the Little Children

Safeguarding children's health through the foods they eat

06-01-1997 // Mark Van Putten

Many readers of National Wildlife remember a time not long ago when the fish population of the Great Lakes had declined drastically because of pollution. Well, the good news is that in many areas of the lakes, the visible pollution has improved and the fish are back. The bad news is that because of invisible, toxic pollution, you should eat only limited quantities of most kinds of fish in the Great Lakes, especially if you are a woman of child-bearing age or under the age of 15.

As our Special Report "Children at Risk" reminds us, it has taken a long time to convince various government agencies that children and pregnant women are particularly sensitive to the toxics they ingest or inhale. For example, after some very public protest by NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office, the EPA recently overrode the state of Michigan´s insistence that Great Lakes salmon are now safe for everyone to eat. And after years of conclusive research, it took until 1996 for Congress to overhaul the laws governing toxic exposure in food and drinking water to take into account the tremendous vulnerability of children.

The National Wildlife Federation knows that people and wildlife will never live in a risk-free world. But study after study demonstrates that the young of most animals are far more susceptible to toxics than adults. Humans, for instance, get 12 percent of their lifetime exposure to dioxin in their first year of life. And inner-city children raised in close proximity to the many Superfund waste sites not yet cleaned up are at particular risk, and yet the expensive litigation over responsibility for those sites drags on with no end in sight.

In April, President Clinton and former President Bush convened a national summit in Philadelphia, celebrating the new spirit of volunteerism among corporate and nonprofit organizations on behalf of America´s children. We applaud that spirit, and through NWF´s education programs do our part to bring knowledge and a love of nature to hundreds of thousands of American children. But a nation that is truly concerned about its children´s well-being cannot focus only on the violence or poverty or bad TV that endangers them. It must give just as much attention to the food its kids eat, the water they drink and the harm that can befall another entire generation while we wait for government agencies to fulfill their responsibilities to children´s health.

Mark Van Putten
President & Chief Executive Officer
National Wildlife Federation

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