Exposure of children to plant protection products: Workshop report now available

Do children react more sensitively to chemicals than adults? This question was the focus of an international workshop "Exposure of children to plant protection products", which was staged in Berlin in September 2001.  The final report is now available in German and English.  The answer: children must indeed be treated as a special group when assessing the risk of exposure to chemicals.  The workshop was organised in conjunction with "Action Programme Environment and Health" (APUG) by the then Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine  (since 1 November 2002 Federal Institute of Risk Assessment) on behalf of the Federal Environmental Agency.  Plant protection products were selected as the theme of the Workshop because they belong to a product group which can reach the child's organism through diverse uptake paths.  This calls for a complex approach to exposure appraisal which can then serve as the basis for other product groups. 

The starting point of the Workshop was the widespread assumption that children react more sensitively to chemicals than adults.  For precautionary reasons, the introduction of additional extrapolation factors is therefore under discussion.  In this context, the protection requirement is interpreted more strictly in the case of children than adults.  The main argument is that exposure may be considerably higher in the case of children because they have a far larger part of their lifespan ahead of them.  In order to elaborate scientifically sound foundations for a precautionary concept of this kind, exposure estimates are required not only for adults but also for children. This presupposes a comparative analysis of all the factors which contribute to and codetermine exposure.

One of the numerous problems discussed was the exposure of toddlers to chemicals because of their typical forms of behaviour.  Exposure can be increased by so-called "mouthing".  This refers to the processes whereby substances, which reach their hands, may be taken up through the action of "putting things in their mouth" while crawling, playing and even while eating.  The relevance of this age-typical behaviour for the total exposure of children to chemicals has not yet been examined. 

With reference to their organism, children probably also take in more substances from the air. Compared to body size and mass, children have a larger lung surface and a higher respiratory rate because, as a rule, they are far more physically active.  Both these factors would seem to indicate that, with the same level of exposure in respiratory air, children take in larger amounts of chemicals than adults. No data are available on this question and they would have to be obtained in suitable studies. 

Overall, scientists come to the conclusion that children must in fact be treated as a special group when it comes to exposure estimations.  They cannot be treated as "little adults".  No definitive answer can as yet be given to the question whether children really have a higher risk (cf. bgvv Press Release 32/2001).  The documentation published from the Workshop contains the discussions of scientists from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA on exposure-determining behavioural patterns and important parameters for risk assessment of children compared to adults.

The Workshop was financed from funds of the Environmental Research Plan (UFOPLAN) of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety (BMU).

The final report can be borrowed free of charge from the library of the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA), PO Box  33 00 22, 14191 Berlin (Fax: 030/89 03-21 54) under the signature "UBA-FB 000367" and is also available as a PDF file on the Internet on http://www.umweltbundesamt.de

The comprehensive English-language documentation of the Workshop entitled "Exposure of children to substances used as ingredients of pesticides" is available on the homepage of the Federal Institute for Risk  Assessment on the Internet.

For readers in a hurry, a short overview of the Workshop results entitled "Exposure of children to plant protection products" (in German) is contained in issue 04/2002 of the  "Umweltmedizinischen Informationsdienstes" (Information service on environmental medicine) which is published jointly by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the Federal Agency for Radiation Protection, the Robert Koch Institute and the Federal Environmental Agency and is available on



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