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

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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!

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