Since Mexico's joining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1994, it has witnessed rapid industrialization. A byproduct of this industrialization is increasing population exposure to environmental pollutants, of which some have been associated with childhood disease. We therefore identified and assessed the adequacy of existing international and Mexican governance instruments and policy tools to protect children from environmental hazards.
We first systematically reviewed PubMed, the Mexican legal code and the websites of the United Nations, World Health Organization, NAFTA and OECD as of July 2007 to identify the relevant governance instruments, and analyzed the approach these instruments took to preventing childhood diseases of environmental origin. Secondly, we interviewed a purposive sample of high-level government officials, researchers and non-governmental organization representatives, to identify their opinions and attitudes towards children's environmental health and potential barriers to child-specific protective legislation and implementation.
We identified only one policy tool describing specific measures to reduce developmental neurotoxicity and other children's health effects from lead. Other governance instruments mention children's unique vulnerability to ozone, particulate matter and carbon monoxide, but do not provide further details. Most interviewees were aware of Mexican environmental policy tools addressing children's health needs, but agreed that, with few exceptions, environmental policies do not address the specific health needs of children and pregnant women. Interviewees also cited state centralization of power, communication barriers and political resistance as reasons for the absence of a strong regulatory platform.
The Mexican government has not sufficiently accounted for children's unique vulnerability to environmental contaminants. If regulation and legislation are not updated and implemented to protect children, increases in preventable exposures to toxic chemicals in the environment may ensue.