Protecting Children from Environmental Health Risks

By Khesha Reed

EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment is driven in large part by our duty to protect our kids. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to make sure we’re doing all we can individually and as an agency to protect children from the environmental health risks they face.

Children are not little adults. They have different activity patterns, physiology, and susceptibility to environmental stressors than adults do. Kids eat, breathe, and drink more relative to their body mass than adults do, so it’s especially important that their air and water be clean and their food be healthy. And because they are still growing and developing, exposure to pollution—including mercury, lead, and chemicals—can be especially dangerous for kids.

This year, I’m proud that EPA has taken action to fight climate change, protect clean water, and promote safer pesticides—decreasing children’s health risks.

But there’s a lot we can do individually to protect our kids—and, as a mother of two young girls, I know parents want to do all they can to keep their children healthy and safe. Below are a few simple ways to protect children from asthma triggers, mercury, lead, and harmful chemicals. When we, as parents and caregivers, get proactive about environmental health risks, we help keep our kids safe. Learn more here.

Help children breathe easier

  • Keep your home as clean as possible. Dust, mold, certain household pests, secondhand smoke, and pet dander can trigger asthma attacks and allergies.
  • Limit outdoor activity on ozone alert days when air pollution is especially harmful.

Keep mercury away from kids

  • Eat a balanced diet, including fish with low levels of mercury.
  • Replace mercury thermometers with digital thermometers.
  • Contact your state or local health or environment department if mercury is spilled – never vacuum a spill.

Protect children from lead poisoning

  • Test your home for lead paint hazards if it was built before 1978.
  • Wash children’s hands before they eat, and wash bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.

Protect kids from chemical poisoning

  • Only use pesticides in and around your home when necessary and according to labeled directions and precautions.
  • If a child has swallowed or inhaled a toxic product like a household cleaner or pesticide, or gotten it in their eye or on their skin:
  • Call 911 if the child is unconscious, having trouble breathing, or having convulsions
  • Check the label for directions on how to give first aid.
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for help with first aid information.