Science Wednesday: Learning to Keep Children Healthy

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children and like to see them grow healthy. I have taught my daughters to wash their hands, eat nutritious meals, wear protective equipment when practicing sports, and to wear sun block. Now that they are teenagers, I talk to them about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drugs, and of course…boys. However, working for the EPA has given me an increased awareness about another set of dangers—environmental exposures.

In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on protecting children from environmental contaminants and learning how the differences in behavior and physiology affect their exposures. I remember as a child playing with mercury, pouring it on the floor and pushing the silver blobs around with my fingers to form a bigger blob. We didn’t know it was bad for us, and neither did our parents.

Since then, the potential health effects from exposure to mercury and other toxic chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and pesticides have become the focus of environmental policies. We have also learned that diet is an important route of exposure to pesticides and other substances in the environment.

But, why are children a concern and how are their exposures different from those of adults?

Children’s organ systems are still developing and they may be more susceptible to environmental exposures. Their behavior and habits can also put children at higher risks. We have learned that contaminants can be deposited in toys and objects that children put in their mouth. Contaminants can also find their way into the milk of lactating mothers. Another example: on average, children younger than one year old inhale approximately six times the amount of air by body weight than an adult.

I love that my job helps me learn about keeping my kids healthy. But, even if you don’t work here, EPA has developed lots of useful information to share. Our Children’s Health Protection web site is a great place to start if you are looking for generalized information. One source I’ve been involved with, the Highlights for the Child-Specific Exposure Factors Handbook, provides risk assessors, economists, and others a wealth of data and EPA recommendations on exposure factors needed to estimate childhood exposure to toxic contaminants.

image of author sitting at deskAbout the author: Jacqueline Moya is a chemical engineer with EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She has been with EPA for 25 years. Her work focuses on increasing our understanding about exposure to susceptible populations.