As we learn more about the unique vulnerabilities and susceptibilities of children to environmental risks, there is an increasing call for data and information that can be used to improve public policy in this area. This document, Children’s Health and the Environment in North America: A First Report on Available Indicators and Measures, is the first integrated, regional report providing indicators for a series of children’s health and environment issues.
The First Regional Initiative on Indicators of Children’s Health and the Environment
In June 2002, the Council of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of North America adopted, through Resolution 02-06 (see APPENDIX 1), the Cooperative Agenda for Children’s Health and the Environment in North America, a blueprint for regional action on children’s health and the environment. Among the elements of the Cooperative Agenda was a commitment to develop indicators of children’s health and the environment for North America.
The CEC joined forces with the International Joint Commission Health Professionals Task Force (IJC HPTF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and together with the three member countries, Canada, Mexico and the United States, embarked upon the development of the first regional report on indicators of children’s health and the environment. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) participated in this initiative as an observer.
This CEC-led effort also forms part of the Global Initiative on Children’s Environmental Health Indicators (CEHI), which was endorsed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and is led by WHO with support from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As such, this report represents a significant regional learning opportunity that may help to inform similar projects in other parts of the world.
The indicators in this report reflect the CEC priorities, as defined by the Council. The CEC priority areas for children’s health and the environment include: asthma and respiratory disease, lead and other toxic substances, and waterborne diseases. The countries committed to presenting information on an initial set of twelve indicators (see APPENDIX 2). These were selected based on the availability of data to present information on them, and on their relevance to the priority issues. From this initial set of twelve indicators, the Steering Group for this report elected to add an additional pollutant release and transfer register (PRTR) indicator on lead.
Also, for reporting purposes, the Steering Group elected to merge two indicators on drinking water into one, and two indicators on waterborne diseases into one. Essentially, there are thirteen indicators, organized under eleven thematic headings, for this report. Recognizing the value of building on existing data and improving over time, a flexible approach was adopted to enable countries to report related information if they were not able to present information on any of these indicators. As a result, not all indicators are comparable across the three countries.
The CEC’s work on pollutants is driven by the priorities identified by Canada, Mexico and the US in the CEC’s 2013-14 Operational Plan (guided by the CEC’s 2010–2015 Strategic Plan) to tackle climate change and improve air quality, address waste in trade in North America and other cross-cutting initiatives.