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How chemicals can affect children

Children are more susceptible to toxins then adults. Kids receive proportionately larger doses of environmental toxins than adults.

Since World War II at least 75,000 new synthetic chemical compounds have been developed and released into the environment; fewer than half of these have been tested for their potential toxicity to humans, and still less have been assessed for their particular toxicity to children

Why are babies and children more vulnerable?

Pound-for-pound, children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food than adults. Thus, they are more exposed to air and water pollution and pesticides.

Their bodies are more rapidly growing and developing, so chemicals that can harm development can do maximum damage at this critical time.

Children also play on the floor, where allergens, such as dust, and heavier-than-air chemicals settle and collect.

Then there's natural behavior: Putting everything in the mouth is a crucial part of normal development, the way a baby learns about the world.

How Toxic Chemicals Can Hurt Children

Immediate Injuries.

There are countless examples of children suffering acute exposures to toxic chemicals and subsequent serious injuries or death......Each year more then 100,000 children accidentally eat pesticides. (EPA, Environmental Health Threats). Children also eat toxic household cleaning products and can be the victims of chemical spills at local industries.

Less Immediate but Equally Serous Health Effects:

The effects of ongoing lower level toxic exposure are also of tremendous concern.....A recent analysis of 100 high volume regulated chemicals found that more than 90% had not been tested at all in terms of impacts on children like post birth performance and nervous system effects. Tests for cancer causation, injury to reproductive ability, neurological injury, and immune system damage were missing for 63%, 53%, 67% and 86% respectively.

Similarly, we now know that it is the offspring of any given species which is often the most at risk from toxic exposures. Even when low dose exposures to mothers cause no noticeable harm, the offspring of those mothers can suffer serious problems. And we have discovered that combinations of chemicals can be more deadly than single chemicals, making our chemicals by chemical prediction of health effects obsolete.

..Nonetheless, a growing body of evidence that includes wildlife findings, laboratory studies, and human data indicates that our children may well be paying the price for our toxic releases with their health.


The rates of childhood cancer have been steadily increasing for over 20 years. This terrible trend has been strongest for certain forms of leukemia and brain cancer. Some 8,000 children per year are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. One in every 400 Americans can expect to get cancer before the age of 15..

Cancer rates for the whole population and excluding lung cancer increases, U.S. cancer incidence increased by 31.7% between 1950 and 1990. The increases in specific types of cancer are particularly dramatic. A woman's lifetime risk of getting breast cancer was 1 in 20 in 1961; now it is 1 in 8, for example. Scientist believes that most cancer (80-90%) is due to environmental causes. Only 10-20% of cancer is attributed to genetic inheritance.

Birth Defects

Of 39 types of birth defects tracked by the Center for Disease Control between 1979 and 1987, 20 increased in incidence.

Learning and Behavioral Problems.

Reduced ability of offspring to lean, to pay attention and to cope with unpleasant situations has been linked in various studies to toxic exposures experienced by their mothers. In two separate studies of children born to women who ate Great Lake fish, researchers found correlations between pollutants in the fish and learning impairments and other adverse effects in the children. The effects were more severe as levels of the pollutants measured in the umbilical cords increased. In the longer of the two studies, lower IQ and verbal comprehension at age 11 was correlated to prenatal toxic exposures.

Reproductive Problems

Many wildlife and laboratory animal studies have found reproductive problems like smaller or deformed penises, low sperm counts, injury to female reproductive organs, reaching sexual maturity too early, and delayed descent of testicles to be correlated to pollution exposures.endometriosis in which cells from the uterus migrate elsewhere in the abdomen, often causing pain and sterility, has now reached epidemic proportions, afflicting an estimated 10% of U.S. women of childbearing age..

..Infertility is widespread and appears to be increasing with more than 2 million couples who want to have children unable to do so.

A new study indicates that many girls in the U.S. are entering puberty much earlier than normal. There is some evidence that exposure to pollutants that mimic estrogen may be contributing to the phenomenon. In addition, to the social and personal implications of early puberty, women who go through puberty early have a longer-than-normal exposure to estrogens and many have a greater risk of breast cancer.

Asthma and other respiratory problems.

Asthma deaths are on the rise in children and young people, increasing by a dramatic 118 percent between 1980 and 1993, according to the Center for Disease Control. Many of the most common air pollutants can cause or contribute to the respiratory illnesses, including asthma, which is now the leading cause of hospital admissions for our nation's children. More the 25% of the nation's children live in areas that don't meet nation's air quality standards.

This information was provided by the Washington Toxics Coalition Fact Sheet.


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