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, giving them 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:
- NCEA is building on a web resource for Catholic schools, “Ensuring a Healthy and Safe Environment,” (http://www.ncea.org/departments/nabccce/services/environmental.asp).
- “Protegiendo Nuestro Futuro” (Protecting Our Future), NCRLC’s Spanish-language campaign trains and educates farmworkers about health threats from agricultural pesticides. PSAs, information capsules, mini-dramas and a radio talk show in Spanish have promoted parish classes in the Diocese of Yakima. Last November, NCRLC and USCCB exhibited at the Midwest Migrant Stream Forum to increase awareness of the role of Church in addressing environmental health issues affecting migrants.
- The Knights of Peter Claver are developing a new educational video and website. The Project leader presented documentary video on the initiative to 400 attendees at the 2004 Knights of Peter Claver Convention last July.
- USCCB has launched a new CASE website, www.usccb.org/case, and completed an updated packet on children’s health and the environment. Catholic Charities USA distributed the new packet to participants of its annual gathering last September.
- Catholic health care systems continue to work together as part of CHA’s Partnership for Environmental Responsibility to help the ministry be more environmentally responsible.
- NCCW released a special section on children’s environmental health in its July/August 2004 issue of Catholic Woman.
On June 29, 2004, USCCB, along with other CASE members (CHA, NCRLC, NCEA and NCCW), submitted comments to the EPA on the Agency’s proposed regulations to reduce mercury emissions generated by power plants. The letter calls for a mercury rule that results in the most child protective and cost-conscious reduction of mercury from coal-fired power plants that is possible. As follow up to that letter, DSD and Government Liaison contacted the National Association of State Catholic Conferences about a resolution to reduce mercury emissions introduced at the National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Meeting on July 20, 2004.
CASE also continues to support the National Children’s Study, a longitudinal study of 100,000 pregnant women whose children will be followed from before birth until age 21. The study will provide information about environmental threats that may affect children's physical, mental, emotional and developmental health.
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). To view the documents mentioned above, go to /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 seeks to play an integral part in 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.