Q&As: environmental health

Q: What are the long-term effects of chemicals on children's health, especially lead?

A: Chronic, low-level exposure to various chemicals may result in a number of adverse outcomes. In the case of lead exposure – even at relatively low levels – continuous exposure may have severe effects, such as anaemia, malaise, and damage to the nervous system. Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead. Relatively low levels of exposure can reduce their IQ scores, cause learning disabilities, poor school performance, and violent behaviour, all of which may contribute to reduced lifetime earnings.

Q: What are the health risks associated with mobile phones and their base stations?

This is a question which WHO takes very seriously. Given the immense number of people who use mobile phones, even a small increase in the incidence of adverse effects on health could have major public health implications. Because exposure to the radiofrequency (RF) fields emitted by mobile phones is generally more than a 1000 times higher than from base stations, and the greater likelihood of any adverse effect being due to handsets, research has almost exclusively been conducted on possible effects of mobile phone exposure.

Q: How can water-related diseases be prevented during emergencies?

The three top priorities concerning drinking water and sanitation during an emergency situation are:

  • ensuring the provision of enough safe water for drinking and for personal hygiene to the people affected by the crisis;
  • ensuring that all people affected by the crisis have access to hygienic sanitation facilities;
  • promoting good hygiene behaviours.

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