Children’s bodies, behaviors and size make them different from and more vulnerable than adults to many environmental health hazards. Children are exposed to environmental hazards at an early age, they have more extended time to develop slowly-progressing environmentally triggered illnesses such as asthma, certain cancers and learning disabilities. Exposure to air pollutants and toxins is significantly more harmful to children, born and unborn. Children in poverty and children of color are at a disproportionate risk, with routinely higher rates of lead poisoning and asthma-related deaths and hospitalization.
In an effort to develop the leadership of Catholic institutions to help address environmental hazards affecting children’s health, a coalition of major Catholic organizations and networks formed the Catholic Coalition for Children and a Safe Environment (CASE).1
Through this network of national Catholic institutions, we have promulgated church teaching on the environment, justice, the common good, stewardship and option for the poor, and how these social teachings urge us as Catholics to care for creation and protect the lives of children who are vulnerable to environmental threats.
Highlights of recent activities by CASE members include:
- Catholic health care has developed “Environmental Responsibility and the Health Care Ministry,” a primer on environmental issues for Catholic health care.
- The Knights of Peter Claver is targeting three parishes in the Chicago metropolitan area to pilot its environmental literacy project. The Clavers completed an environmental justice and health booklet, entitled “Struggles for Environmental Justice and Health in Chicago: An African American and Catholic Perspective.” The Clavers initiative has already reached out to 2,400 African-American Catholics in the Chicago metropolitan area.
- The National Catholic Educational Association completed “Ensuring a Healthy and Safe Environment” on its website, including what local school boards can do to address environmental health issues in schools.
- The National Council of Catholic Women has targeted 10 dioceses that would commit to undertake a year-long education project on environmental health issues affecting children in their parishes. The following Arch/Diocesan Councils have been selected to participate: Belleville, IL; Charleston, SC; Harrisburg, PA; Fall River, MA; Galveston/Houston, TX; Great Falls/Billings, MT; Green Bay, WI; Knoxville, TN; Madison, WI; and Orange, CA.
- NCRLC launched a farmworker pesticide safety education project in the Diocese of Yakima. A 52-slide Spanish-language instructional program on the health impacts of agricultural pesticides and what can be done to minimize exposures has been developed targeting adolescent and adult female migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Farmworker instructors in four parishes began teaching the program in March 2004. Spanish-language educational radio mini-dramas and information capsules are broadcast in conjunction with parish classes.
During 2003, USCCB presented comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding the testing of pesticides in humans and concerns about the protection of children and vulnerable populations. USCCB and CHA also sent a letter in support of the Mercury Reduction Act (S. 616). For copies of these documents, visit /sdwp/national/che.shtml
As Catholics, we are called to care for God’s gift of creation and to protect the most vulnerable among us. Caught in a spiral of poverty and environmental degradation, the poor and the powerless bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of environmental problems, as their lands and neighborhoods are more likely to be polluted, to be near toxic waste dumps, or to suffer from water contamination.
In the face of these challenges, the Catholic community is an integral part of learning more, caring more, and doing more about the environment and the threats to it, and to our children. “For generations, the Catholic community has reached out to children… We have defended their right to life itself and their right to live with dignity, to realize the bright promise and opportunity of childhood. Now we renew this commitment and build on it. We seek to bring new hope and concrete help to a generation of children at risk.” (Putting Children and Families First, p. 17).
- Urge Congress and the Administration to protect children from exposure to harmful toxins such as lead and mercury.
- Urge your local and state authorities to fund initiatives intended to assist public and private schools in providing an environment free of health hazards.
Make the CASE for Children’s Health: Catholic Coalition for Children and a Safe Environment.
Putting Children and Families First: A Challenge to Our Church, Nation and World.
Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching.
For More Information
Contact Roxana Barillas, USCCB, at (202) 541-3445, firstname.lastname@example.org
1 CASE is made up of the following members: Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA); Catholic Health Association (CHA); Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI); Conference for Catholic Facility Management (CCFM); Knights of Peter Claver, Inc. and Ladies Auxiliary (KPC); National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW); National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA); National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD); National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC); and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and Office for Domestic Social Development. The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, Inc. is also been invited to participate in CASE meetings.