Pollution is a health threat to all, but in many respects, children are the most vulnerable. October 8 is the fifth annual Children’s Environmental Health Day, calling attention to the need to strengthen environmental protections for young people.
As the Flint drinking water crisis dramatized, children are especially at risk when exposed to lead. Lead attacks the developing brain and has been connected to lower IQ, behavioral problems, and reduced academic performance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no safe level of lead exposure for children.
Lead is just one of many pollutants that poses particular threats to the health of children because:
- Their brains and bodies are still developing and are particularly sensitive to pollutants at certain developmental stages;
- Children breathe more rapidly than adults and therefore absorb more pollutants through the respiratory system;
- They drink more water and eat more food per pound of body weight than adults;
- Children are more likely to put their hands in their mouth;
- A child’s body may not be able to break down and get rid of harmful contaminants that enter the body;
- Health problems from an environmental exposure can take years to develop. Because they are young, children have more time to develop adverse health conditions and diseases than adults who are exposed later in their life.
A profile of children’s environmental health in Michigan shows the state has higher rates of pediatric cancer, as well as childhood asthma and ADD/ADHD, than national averages.
What can we do to protect children’s environmental health? Parents and guardians can get informed and take direct action to guard their children from exposure to pollutants. And all citizens can advocate for state and local policies that provide special protections for children—like Michigan’s drinking water standard for lead, the toughest in the nation.
Protecting children from pollution is not optional—it is a duty. In the home, the community, and across Michigan, we have much to do to meet that duty.