Event date: 7 June 2018 

We are all exposed to a variety of chemicals every day through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. These exposures can potentially lead to adverse health effects over longer periods of time and can cause a variety of health problems. Understanding the cumulative impacts of these chemicals on the population is difficult, given the number and complexity of the chemicals we use. 

Small children, whose bodies are rapidly developing, are particularly susceptible to their surrounding environments. More than three million children under 5 die each year from environment-related causes and conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) this makes the environment one of the most critical contributors to the death of children annually. 

Polluted indoor and outdoor air, contaminated water, lack of sanitation, toxic hazards, disease, ultraviolet radiation and degraded ecosystems are all important environmental risk factors for children. Health damaging exposure to environmental risks can also begin before birth. A woman's exposure to lead in the air, mercury in food and other chemicals may potentially affect the health of her unborn child. 

In many cases, low-cost solutions for environment and health problems exist. Simple filtration and disinfection of water dramatically improves water quality, better storage and safe use of chemicals reduces exposure and education better equips families and communities to take appropriate action to reduce or eliminate exposure. 

EPA's role is to minimise the harmful effects of pollution and waste, and to ensure Victoria is both livable and prosperous. 

For this Environmental Science Series event, Professor Peter Sly joined us to explore the impact of environmental exposures in early life. Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, shared her insights into the state of the Victorian environment and current factors that impact exposures. 

Speaker bio: Professor Peter Sly

Professor Peter Sly is the Director, Children's Health and Environment Program at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Children's Health and Environment. Professor Sly is a NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow and a paediatric respiratory physician with extensive research experience in respiratory physiology, developmental immunology and children's environmental health. Professor Sly’s research aims to understand the mechanisms underlying chronic childhood lung diseases to improve clinical management and to delay or prevent their onset, with consequent reductions in adult lung diseases. 

Professor Sly is also the chairman of the board of directors for the Pacific Basin Consortium for the Environment and Health and currently serves on international advisory boards and committees, including: WHO Public Health and Environment; WHO network of Collaborating Centres in Children’s Environmental Health; Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study, Canada; and the Infant Lung Health Study, Paarl, South Africa. 

Speaker bio: Dr Andrea Hinwood

Dr Andrea Hinwood is Victoria's first Chief Environmental Scientist at EPA Victoria, and was appointed to the role in 2017. Dr Hinwood is an accomplished environmental scientist with specialist expertise in environmental exposures and human health.

Dr Hinwood was previously an Associate Professor at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and held appointments as a member and Deputy Chair of the Environmental Protection Authority of WA and a sessional member of the State Administrative Tribunal of Western Australia.

Now in Victoria, Dr Hinwood is continuing her work in environmental exposures and human health, with research and science being used to understand environmental issues and to prevent impacts to the environment and public health from pollution and waste. She has published widely on community exposure to pollutants and is a widely respected communicator and advocate of science, recording a host of national and international achievements in the areas of environmental science and health, applied research and environmental policy development.

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Reviewed 3 August 2020