Critical training to better protect, support, and heal vulnerable children




Heavy metal exposure and its health effects on children is something that I think is under thought about. When it comes to emergency situations, we're thinking about day-to-day survival. Sometimes, we're not taking into account the environmental exposures some of these children and adults have, in these situations.

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We're seeing some of these camps being set up close to highways or they might be set up in areas that might be manufacturing areas. The heating sources--often they're using diesel or oils--aren't the cleanest heating sources. There might be air pollution. There might not be great sanitation, running water, or adequate bathroom facilities, for that matter. With all these added exposures, you're not only increasing risk for disease, you're also increasing risk for susceptibility to some toxic exposure as well.

Some of the big ones that we think about in terms of development for children are: lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. These are very often found in air pollution. They could be from car exhausts or from heating systems that you're using, for example, diesel.

There could be a contamination of the soil where some of the food is grown. That can come into the food that they're eating as well. All of this can accumulate and start to cause some health concerns with a child. Some simple things that we can think about when we are trying to avoid this or limited things that we could do in terms of environmental exposure and there's even less that we can do in terms of adequate nutrition to manage it. What we can think about are simple things. Like making sure that kids are washing their hands frequently so that if they're out playing in the dust, that they're not then putting their hands in their mouths and getting contaminated dust in their mouth.

Discourage growing plants near a roadway or near a sewer system or a garbage dump site. Discourage children from playing near a road. If you have a group playing move them inwards a little bit. They can actually get a significant reduction in the air pollution exposure by moving them away from the road.

We often, forget that if they're in a closed environment with second-hand smoke, not only are they getting exposure to the nicotine and some of the other pollutants that are in cigarettes, but cigarettes are also high in certain metals as well. It's important to think about that and maybe just educating the parents about not smoking indoors or making sure that the children are kept away from smoking areas.

I'm thinking about also covering food up if there's a lot of dust in the area. Specifically, making sure that food is always covered, and discouraging children from eating food that's been on the ground.


Lara Zakaria, RPh MS CNS CDN

Lara Zakaria is a Syrian-American pharmacist and clinical nutritionist residing in New York City. She owns Foodie Farmacist LLC, an integrative medicine, nutrition, and genomics consulting practice focused on prevention and reversal of chronic disease. An active member of...

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The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Tristate Chapter, she is also honored to serve on the national Board of Directors.

Her ground experience includes participating with multidisciplinary medical teams serving displaced refugees and underserved local communities in Jordan and Lebanon. Lara also serves on several advisory committees including the Jordan Relief Committee (including the Za’atri Clinic Advisory Commission), Advocacy, and as chair of the Pharmacy and Nutrition Committee. Lara is an active advocate for awareness of the Syrian Crisis and medical worker safety, meeting with representative of the United Nations and of the US congress and senate, as well as in presenting SAMS work at various universities and roundtable discussions including the University of Michigan, Columbia University, CUNY Medical School, and New York University Medical and Law School.

Lara is currently a graduate student at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, and a candidate for a Masters in Public Health with a special interest in Behavioral and Social Health.


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