Children's Health and Environment Program

The Children's Health and Environment Program (CHEP) is a part of the Child Health Research Centre at The University of Queensland.

CHEP plays an important role in children's environmental health research at The University of Queensland (UQ), bringing together researchers from many fields, connecting UQ researchers with international experts, and advising World Health Organisation policy makers. CHEP has forged strong and active collaborations within UQ, especially with the National Centre for Environmental Toxicology (ENTOX), the School of Public Health and the Global Change Institute. We are currently actively contributing to UQ's plans to develop a new venture in Shenzhen, China, in particular in the area of education and research in environmental health. CHEP has a focus in education and training, adding a children's environmental health component to Masters Level and short summer courses in the School of Public Health, in conjunction with Dr Paul Jagals. CHEP staff currently contribute to the supervision of 12 RhD students at UQ and had 2 successful PhD completions in 2014.

The development of the Centre for Children's Health Research located alongside the Lady Cliento Children's Hospital is a good opportunity to develop a coordinated and ambitious plan for children's environmental health research at UQ.

CHEP regularly collaborates with a wide variety on International and National organisations, including: Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health, WHO (Switzerland); WHO Western Pacific Regional Office (Philippines); National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (USA); Chulabhorn Research Institute (Thailand); Gwangju Institute for Science and Technology (South Korea); Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) Institute of Biomedical Research (IPB-PUCRS) Infant Center (Brazil); Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (Melbourne); Edith Cowen University (Perth); Telethon Kids Institute (Perth). These collaborations provide UQ staff and students with the opportunity to be exposed to and to work with major international and national environmental health groups.

 

Background

Healthy children in living healthy environments are essential for our future. However, every day children are exposed to a range of environmental hazards in their physical, built and social environment that may adversely affect their health. Progress towards meeting the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals has been accompanied by a substantial change in the global pattern of disease with a significant shift towards chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Globally, early childhood deaths have declined, but years lived with disability have increased over the 20 years 1990-2010: cardiovascular disease by 17·7%; chronic respiratory disease by 8·5%; neurological conditions by 12·2%; diabetes by 30·0%; and mental and behavioural disorders by 5·0%. There is increasing recognition that many chronic diseases are initiated in early life but measuring exposures and outcomes in early life is challenging. Improving both exposure assessments and health outcomes will be a key focus of CHEP research over the next 5 years.

WHO estimates that around one quarter of the global burden of disease has an environmental contribution. In children, the fraction is higher, with approximately 36% in children 0-4 years old and 34% in children 0-14 years old attributed to environmental factors. This is likely an underestimate as many environmental factors were not included in these estimates. Given the growing evidence of the early life origins of disease, environmental exposures during childhood play a huge role in how we develop illness throughout our lives, influencing everything from normal growth and development, to asthma, heart disease and cancer. Research into the causes of childhood illness is therefore incomplete without investigating the early life environmental contribution to disease.

The major contributions to the burden of disease for Australian children come from mental disorders (23%), respiratory diseases, primarily asthma (18%) and neonatal conditions (16%). These are all disorders recognized to have a major environmental contribution, however, the contribution that the environment makes to childhood disease has not been reported in Australia. The response of the public health establishment to the challenges facing children is sub-optimal. Few jurisdictions specifically account for the special vulnerability of children when setting exposure standards. There is little or no requirement to demonstrate that new technologies or chemicals are safe for children before they are introduced into the marketplace. Manufactured nanoparticles are currently in use, including in products specifically designed for children, such as sunscreens and burns dressings. There is concern that flame retardants may be harmful, based on their chemical structure, yet they are used on children’s sleepwear without demonstrating their safety. More research is needed to inform public policy.

Why CHEP in Australia?

Some of the poorest and most disadvantaged children in the world live in South-East Asia, especially in parts of China and India. Australia is well placed to provide research leadership within our region and has a responsibility to build capacity in developing countries. Despite our research prowess and relatively fortunate circumstances, the environmental threats to the health of children are not high on the research agenda in Australia. The general public is becoming better informed and increasingly concerned about adverse environmental influences on health. The development of CHEP at The University of Queensland will allow us to take advantage of this public sentiment and to gain a strategic advantage. CHEP researchers also collaborate with WHO and Ministries of Health in the Pacific Islands on research projects to inform public health strategies and interventions. This includes field projects focussed on epidemiological studies of leptospirosis in Fiji, and lymphatic filariasis elimination in American Samoa.

WHO Collaborating Centre

The WHO Collaborating Centre for Children’s Health and the Environment forms part of the Children's Health and Environment Program (CHEP), at the Child Health Research Centre at The University of Queensland. CHEP has formed active collaborations with groups within UQ that have recognised expertise in population health and environmental health, such as the School of Public Health (SPH), the Centre for Burden of Disease and Cost-Effectiveness, and the National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology (ENTOX). These groups have not previously had a focus on children’s health.

Learn more about our Collaborating Centre:

WHO Collaborating Centres Network for Children's Environmental Health

The UQ Collaborating Centre is part of a wider network of centres for Children's Environmental Health. The network aims to prevent disease and injury and promote children's well-being through healthier environments.

The Network's overall goal is to improve children's health by preventing or reducing environmental threats through:

  • Building evidence and research capacities in global children's environmental health.
  • Coordinating and conducting collaborative children's environmental health research.
  • Raising awareness of global children's environmental health issues through improved education and communication strategies.
  • Developing interventions aimed at capacity building, reducing exposure, and preventing or decreasing the burden of disease for children.

E-Waste Network

Our Purpose

The e-waste network aims to establish, further expand and foster cooperation through a network of experts and international stakeholders in the area of e-waste management by:

  • Closely coordinating intervention programs with WHO departments, UN agencies, WHO collaborating centres and other groups
  • Closely collaborating with WHO collaborating centers, partners, and NGOs and by involving further stakeholders 
  • Setting up a platform for exchange as a tool to build this network

Network Background

In June, 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) convened a workshop of international scientists, policy experts, and United Nations representatives to discuss the challenges of exposure of children and vulnerable populations to the toxic substances resulting from improper management of waste from electronic and electrical equipment (e-waste). The purpose of the meeting  was to review the current situation of e-waste exposures and child health, research gaps, and successful interventions in order to identify needs, key partners and define next steps in public health.

The outcomes of the meeting were to raise awareness of the threat of  e-waste management to child health; to establish a network of experts and international stakeholders in the area of e-waste management and to plan, prepare and engage in concrete interventions to prevent and reduce exposures to e-waste.

E-Waste Declaration

The 2013 Geneva Declaration on E-Waste and Children’s Health aims to raise awareness of human health risks by exposures to e-waste. The declaration expresses the authors’ major concerns for human health, especially children’s health, resulting from unsound management of e-waste. In addition it calls upon global stakeholders to intervene on this issue.  Stakeholders worldwide are encouraged to:

  • Implement measures to prevent and reduce exposure to e-waste derived hazardous substances
  • Enforce existing regulations
  • Establish precise regulations on sound e-waste management.

Recent articles on the health effects of E-Waste exposure

  • E-Waste and Harms to Vunerable Populations: A Growing Global Problem: Environmental Health Perspectives. Heacock M, Bain Kelly C, Asante KA, Birnbaum LS, Lennart Bergman A, Bruné M, Buka I, Carpenter DO, Chen A, Huo X, Kamel M, Landrigan PJ, Magalini F, Diaz-Barriga F, Neira M, Omar M, Pascale A, Ruchirawat M, Sly L, Sly PD, Van den Berg M, Suk WA. (2016) The e-waste problem has been building for decades. Increased observation of adverse health effects from e-waste sites calls for protecting human health and the environment from e-waste contamination. Even if e-waste exposure intervention and prevention efforts are implemented, legacy contamination will remain, necessitating increased awareness of e-waste as a major environmental health threat.
  • E-Waste: A Global Hazard, Annals of Global Health: Perkins DN, Brune Drisse MN, Nxele T, Sly PD (2014).Waste from end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment, known as e-waste, is a rapidly growing global problem. E-waste contains valuable materials that have an economic value when recycled. Unfortunately, the majority of e-waste is recycled in the unregulated informal sector and results in significant risk for toxic exposures to the recyclers, who are frequently women and children.
  • E-Waste: Health Impacts in Developing Countries, EHS Journal:  Kumar SN, Jain AK (2014)
  • Global E-waste Monitor 2014. Quantities, flows and resources. Baldé, C.P., Wang, F., Kuehr, R., Huisman, J. (2015), The global e-waste monitor – 2014, United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE, Bonn, Germany. 
  • Health consequences of exposure to e-waste: a systematic review, The Lancet Global Health: The population exposed to potentially hazardous substances through inappropriate and unsafe management practices related to disposal and recycling of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment, collectively known as e-waste, is increasing. This systematic review aimed to summarise the evidence for the association between such exposures and adverse health outcomes. To read the full systematic review, please click here.              
  • UNU & WHO Survey  on E-waste and its Health Impact on Children: Following the launch of a new initiative by WHO addressing electronic waste and child health, the United Nations University (UNU), which hosts the Solving the E‐waste Problem (StEP) Initiative, and WHO carried out an on‐line survey with a wider body of experts. The survey highlights the need for joint action to tackle health issues related to e-waste management around the world. These efforts, led by WHO, should complement existing activities of other organizations, to use and build on the expertise of complementary disciplines. This will ensure a holistic approach, taking into account the challenges of proper e-waste management in different regions of the world. To read the Final Report, please click here. To read the full correspondence, please click here
  • Electronic waste - time to take stock, The Lancet: The residents of Agbogbloshie, a town of around 40 000 people near Accra, Ghana, depend on discarded electronic equipment for their survival. Used fridges, computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices are collected, dismantled, and processed to extract valuable components, such as copper and gold, earning residents less than US$1 per day. The town, the industry, and the health consequences provide a microcosm of a major emerging public health threat in the developing world, that of electronic waste (e-waste) recycling. 

 

Areas of Interest

Global Change

CHEP interacts with the Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland (GCI) by providing focal area leadership on the impact of global change on population health. Dr Paul Jagals, School of Population Health, The University of Queensland (SPH) and Professor Peter Sly provide focal area leadership in Environmental Health for the Global Change Institute. This provides the link between the other GCI focal areas and health outcomes.

Collaborative projects assessing the health impacts of various aspects of global change are being developed.

Public Health

CHEP has established collaborations with the School of Population Health, The University of Queensland (SPH) including adding a children's environmental health focus to the Master of Philosopy (MPhil) program and bringing Research Higher Degree Students to the school. Areas of future collaboration include: assessing the environmental contribution to the burden of disease in children; increasing the "child" focus of existing and new population health research; developing joint education programs in children's environmental health.

Particularly strong links have been established with Dr Paul Jagals within the School of Population Health and the joint appointment of Senior Lecturer, Dr Rosana Norman to provide input into courses in Children's Environmental Health, developing joint research programs and joint supervision of Research Higher Degree students.

Toxic Exposures

Collaborations with National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology, The University of Queensland (Entox) have already been established combining the expertise in quantifying exposures to harmful chemical in the environment with paediatric epidemiology and health outcome expertise. Strong collaborative links have been established, in particular with Professor Jochen Mueller and Dr. Amy Heffernan.

Collaborative studies underway or in the planning include:

  • Optimising techniques for assessing exposure of infants and young children to environmental chemicals
  • Assessing impact of pesticide exposure on semen quality in young men
  • Measuring environmental exposures and their health consequences in birth cohort studies.

Little Things Matter: The Impact of Toxins on the Developing Brain

A seven minute video, presented by Dr Bruce Lanphear, helps people understand the population impact of exposures to environmental toxins. After studying the impact of toxins on children for many years researchers have reached the conclusion that “little things matter”. The presentation is very graphical and easy to follow and ends with a list of suggestions to help avoid exposure to toxins.

Watch the Video

Infections

Evidence is accumulating that climate change is resulting in a change in the distribution of infections, especially food, water and vector-borne diseases. Such changes will result in Australia facing an increase in diseases our work force is not trained to handle. Collaborations within CHRC (Infection, Inflammation and the Environment theme) and with The University of Queensland Australian Infectious Disease (AID) Research Centrewill see CHEP well placed to contribute to an improved outcome for Australian children. In addition, we have seen the impact on human health of zoonoses. Existing collaborations between CHRC and the School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland can be extended to help address such issues in children's health.

Education & Training

There is a general lack of awareness of the particular vulnerability of children to adverse environmental exposures. CHEP will collaborate with existing groups within The University of Queensland to produce and deliver educational material on children's environmental health that can be used for under graduate and post graduate students, continuing education of health care professionals, environmental health officers and interested members of the public.

Global outreach & capacity building

CHEP has strong links with the Public Health & Environment section of World Health Organisation (WHO), Geneva and with the network of WHO Collaborating Centres in Children's Environmental Health, as well as with other international organisations including:

  • The Pacific Basin Consortium (PBC) for the Environment & Health
  • The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences Superfund Basic Research program
  • Professional societies in this area. 

CHEP is also involved in advising scientists in developing countries, including Brazil, Thailand, China, Mexico and South Africa and providing the expertise required to undertake successful research programs. This extensive network of international collaborators provides an opportunity for The University of Queensland researchers to interact with keen scientists in developing countries and provides excellent opportunities for training staff, both ours and theirs.

Public Engagement

CHEP provides The University of Queensland with the opportunity to take a leadership role in engaging the public in children's environmental health and in child health advocacy. CHEP has recently taken over producing the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance newsletter, a joint venture from WHO and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Public interest groups, such as the National Toxics Network exist and engaging with such groups and providing them with accurate information will not only increase the public awareness in this area but ensure that The University of Queensland is at the forefront of the debate.

Neurodevelopment and Mental Health

CHEP is collaborating on several projects investigating the impact of environmental exposures on neurodevelopment and mental health in children. CHEP and ENTOX are providing expertise in environmental monitoring to the Barwon Infant Study, co-ordinated by Dr. Peter Vuillermin and Professor Anne-Louise Ponsonby, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Melbourne.

Associate Professor James Scott has joined CHEP as an "external member" and will lead a Mental Health Group. Initial research will centre on bullying in children.

Education

The Children's Health and Environment Program has formed an alliance with Kidsafe Queensland to provide simple information to parents about environmental exposures in the home and how these may impact on children's health.

Fact sheets of the following topics can be viewed on the Kidsafe website

  • Children and their Environment: describes common dangers to children in their environments.
  • Household products: describes harmful chemicals in the home and how they may affect children.
  • Indoor pollutants: describes sources of indoor air pollution that can affect children and how to prevent exposures.
  • Noise: explains how children are vulnerable to excessive noise and how to prevent exposures.
  • Renovating: explains what to do and not to do in renovating when pregnant women or young children are in a home.
  • Sun Exposure: explains the balance between beneficial and detrimental sun exposures.
  • Tobacco smoke: highlights the dangers of tobacco smoke to children both before and after birth.

A Home Safety Checklist is available to download.

Other fact sheets for parents can be found on our CHRC Fact Sheets pages.

Visit Fact Sheets

New Video: Link between traffic pollution and allergy risk. 

Links

  • WHO, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health: The role of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health (PHE) within the overall work of WHO is to promote a healthier environment, intensify primary prevention and influence public policies in all sectors so as to address the root causes of environmental and social threats to health. PHE develops and promotes preventive policies and interventions based on an understanding and an in-depth scientific analysis of the evidence base for environmental and social determinants of human health. 
  • The Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health: The Pacific Basin Consortium (PBC) was established in 1986 by a group of scientists and engineers to facilitate dialogue and cooperation among scientists, industry professionals, government officials, students and policy makers regarding the problems associated with hazardous waste production, management and remediation in the Pacific Basin. 
  • Solving the E-waste Initiative (StEP): Solving the E-waste Initiative (StEP) is a platform for varied actors to proactively work on long-term solutions to the e-waste problem. StEP projects are grouped into five task forces: Policy, ReDesign, ReUse, ReCycle and Capacity Building. A recent addition to StEP’s activities is the E-waste Academy program. Involving scientists and policy makers, the E-waste Academy is a set of annual workshops aiming to foster communication and create connected experts in all spheres of e-waste management.
  • Basel Convention: The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 22 March 1989 by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland, in response to a public outcry following the discovery, in the 1980s, in Africa and other parts of the developing world of deposits of toxic wastes imported from abroad. 
  • CSIR Water Research Institute: The Water Research Institute (WRI) is one of the 13 research institutes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Its mission is "to conduct research into water and related resources through the generation and provision of scientific information, strategies and services towards the rational development, utilisation and management of water resources of Ghana in support of socio–economic advancement of the country, especially in the agriculture, environment, health, industry, energy, transportation, education and tourism sectors." 
  • Children's Environmental Health Center, Mount Sinai Hospital: The Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) conducts groundbreaking research to identify the environmental causes of childhood disease. They translate these findings into solutions that protect children’s health — using research to educate families and change public policy. 
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO): UNIDO is the specialized agency of the United Nations that promotes industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability. Read more.  
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU): ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – ICTs. ITU aims to ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strive to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide.
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): UNEP's mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. 
  • International Labour Organisation (ILO): The main aims of the ILO are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues. 
  • International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC)The overall goal of the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour is the progressive elimination of child labour, which is to be achieved through strengthening the capacity of countries to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour.
  • United Nations University (UNU): The United Nations University (UNU) is a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organization headquartered in Japan. The mission of the UNU is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States. 
  • International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC): IETC have provided the manual on E-waste Volume III - WEEE/e-waste "Take back system". This manual aims to build the capacity of practitioners and decision makers to guide and assist them in understanding, planning, designing and implementing WEEE/e-waste take-back schemes. 
  • Mesothelioma Centre at Asbestos.com: Asbestos exposure has been linked to the development of serious respiratory diseases and cancers, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other conditions. Asbestos exposure is most commonly related to occupational, environmental and secondhand factors.

CHEP Annual Reports

Structure

External Members of the Children's Health and Environment Program are employed in other units within UQ but outside CHRC and work closely with Professor Peter Sly and his staff. Current external members include:

  • Professor Jochen Muller, National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology, UQ
  • Dr. Paul Jagals, School of Population Health, UQ
  • Dr. James Scott, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Queensland Health and UQ

External Collaborators currently include:

Download our Organisational Chart