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7 Reasons Children Are Exceptionally Sensitive to Everyday Chemicals

Why we need to protect our kids by limiting their exposure to chemicals and other toxins. From Green This! Volume One: Greening Your Cleaning by Deirdre Imus

Why do I keep putting such a big emphasis on our children? Well, for a number of reasons, children are the most vulnerable to environmental insults. Several behavioral and biological factors make children exceptionally sensitive to chemical exposures:

  • Children are like sponges, absorbing everything, both good and bad, in the environment around them. They’re smaller than adults, and are constantly growing. They breathe faster, taking in more air — and more chemicals — relative to their weight than we do.
  • Young children wash their hands less frequently than adults and often put their hands and foreign objects in their months, which means they have direct contact with the chemicals we used to clean their homes.
  • Because they are shorter than adults and spend more time on the floor, children are most directly exposed to chemicals like chlorine, which are heavier than air and lie closer to the ground.
  • Children have accelerated metabolisms. They consume far more food and drink than the average adult per pound of body weight —  roughly three to four times as much.
  • Rapid growth and splitting of cells during childhood allows dangerous cell mutations to multiply at a faster rate.
  • Small children, because they are unable to read the warning labels on household cleaning products, are likelier to spill or swallow products left around the house.
  • A newborn’s skin is more permeable and more readily absorbs chemicals. These exposures can have lifelong consequences.

I guarantee that there are even more risks to children that we don’t even know about yet, since most environmental exposure standards have been set up according to research conducted on adults — 180-pound males, to be precise. By definition, then, the Food and Drug Administration current safety standards and regulations fail to take most children, pets, and even adult women into account.

Researchers have cited difficulties in obtaining informed consent and getting blood samples from children. As a result, children — the population that should be the centerpiece of these studies — often get overlooked.

There are other problems, too, in measuring the health impact of these toxins on children. Because there’s often a long delay, called a “latency period,” between chemical exposures and the diseases they cause, researchers cannot always determine clear-cut associations. But even without all the answers in yet, it’s obvious that children’s health is in a state of crisis. We’re seeing epidemic levels of asthma, diabetes, learning disorders, and obesity. Pediatric cancers are on the rise. One in every six kids is diagnosed with a learning disability or other developmental issue, from dyslexia to ADHD to bipolar disorder. Childhood allergies are at record levels, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis has become the third most common chronic disorder.

We can, and must, work harder to protect our children from the diseases that are ravaging them. A 2003 report by the National Institution of Environmental Health Sciences states that “prevention of exposure is the single most effective means of protection against environmental threats.” Until all the facts are in, we need to protect our kids by limiting their exposure to these dangerous chemicals. They’re getting sicker, and they need our help.

Deirdre Imus, author of Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning (Copyright © 2007 by Git’R Green, Inc.), is the founder and president of Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology®, part of Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) in New Jersey. She is also a co-founder and co-director of the Imus Castle Ranch for Kids with Cancer, and the author of the bestselling book The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys.




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