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Science Wednesday: Why is EPA Interested in Understanding How the Environment Affects Children’s Health?

2008 October 29

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Michael Firestone, Ph.D., is a biochemist who is the Science Director in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education.

Simply put, EPA is interested in children because they are not little adults. Their bodies are developing; they eat more, drink more, and breathe more in proportion to their body size than adults; and their unique behaviors such as crawling and putting their hands and objects in their mouths can expose them more to chemicals and organisms. These differences may increase the susceptibility of children to environmental contaminants such as mercury and lead and certain pesticides.

photo of little girlIn 1987, I was fortunate for two reasons – I received a promotion to manage a group of scientists who evaluated occupational and residential exposure to pesticides, and I became a father for the first time. Watching my young daughter crawl around on the grass and picking up a small pebble to explore with her mouth made me wonder about possible exposure of young children to pesticides used on lawns – at the same time, I realized that our group of scientists had very little data to answer the question. Thus, I began on a 20-year journey to promote research related to better understanding children’s environmental exposure.

Along the way, even the President became concerned by issuing Executive Order 13045: Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks.

Photo of toddler ladling water from a toiletTake some time and watch a toddler very carefully and you will begin to understand just how unique children’s behaviors can be compared to adults – here is a great example:

We’ve made great progress toward improving our knowledge about children’s exposures including the development of guidance to standardize childhood age groups and a brand new database of children’s exposure factors information.

And the federal government is starting an exciting new study called the National Children’s Study whose goal is examine the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of 100,000 children across the United States.

It has been said that our children are our future – so let’s make sure we develop the tools and data which will help us protect both!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Burl Haigwood permalink
    October 31, 2008

    Can you point me to any information an exposure to air pollution and children?

  2. Dawn M Junkins permalink
    November 3, 2008

    Effects of Indoor/Outdoor air pollution and quality are available in the Dept. of Environmental Protection Agency. Remember, this is according to their studies and information resources. Hence, now they need more information to study these effects on children. Our environment is changing rapidly, and we don’t have all the answers, sometimes what we think is the answer, harms us somewhere else. I am appalled that this is the first time I am reading about the EPA and this study because my family and I were victims of a chain reactive (nuclear style)event that led to very harmful indoor air quality. They have not asked my 4 year old to participate in, or what about my 15 year old? We have been waiting for an answer, theory(s) this whole year. As bitter as I am, I know we need these studies to help find solutions as it appears, most of our children have been affected by our environment and these studies hopefully will find the right treatments.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    November 3, 2008

    America’s Children and the Environment brings together information to show trends in levels of environmental contaminants in air, water, food, and soil; concentrations of contaminants measured in the bodies of mothers and children; and childhood diseases that may be influenced by environmental factors. Check out the information on outdoor air pollution at –

    EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences established the Children’s Environmental Health Research Centers to help us understand the effects of environmental exposures on children’s health. Some of the Centers have studied air pollutants and children’s health. Please visit –

    California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the American Lung Association of California produced a fact sheet on air pollution and children’s health in 2003 which can be found at –

    Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement in 2004 with recommendations to pediatricians and to the government. Please visit –;114/6/1699.pdf

    We hope this is helpful. Thank you for your interest in children’s health protection.

  4. JStatson permalink
    December 16, 2009

    This information is critical. The environment can affect anyone’s health and this is proven.

    Look at cities like Los Angeles and the reports of people that live near freeways with congest traffic. These homes and areas are PROVEN to cause serious health issues and people still pay outrageous fees for this type of real estate. Props to the EPA. The environmental time clock is limited and we need to be proactive in making change today.

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