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Environmental damage hurts children and elderly most

February 24th, 2009 at 5:01 pm

By Ken Camp, Managing Editor   
Published: February 05, 2009

AUSTIN—Environmental degradation presents the greatest danger to the most vulnerable people—particularly children and the elderly, a Houston pediatrician told the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission’s annual conference.

Scientists have reached consensus about the reality of global warming, and children especially will bear the brunt of its effects, said Susan Pacheco, a faculty member of the pediatrics department at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.

Pacheco, who treats children who suffers from allergies and immune-deficiency disorders at the school’s clinic, noted children are more vulnerable than the general population to heat stress, air pollution, water-borne diseases and extreme weather events.
Heat-related deaths take a particularly heavy toll on the elderly population, while children especially suffer ill effects from air pollution, she said.

“Children are more susceptible to harm from ozone air pollution,” she said, due in part to the time they spend outdoors and in part because of their increased breathing rate relative to their body size.

“Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children,” she said, adding that air-borne irritants linked to vehicle traffic and other pollutants increase the risk. Also, as the overall global temperature has increased, it has resulted in a dramatic increase in pollen production, she explained.

Global warming already has begun to present greater risk to population centers in coastal areas, which tend to have a high percentage of the poor, the elderly and the very young, she said.
“The intensity of hurricanes is going to increase significantly. That’s a no-brainer,” Pacheco said. “It is primarily due to the increase in sea temperatures.”

That, in turn, presents greater risk of flooding and resultant diseases that are water-borne or spread by insects.

As a resident of a coastal city, Pacheco noted she and her family have learned how to secure their home against the elements and cope with the inconvenience of occasional power outages. But for the chronically poor in developing countries, those options are not available, she observed.

“We are people in a privileged position,” she said.

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