the Children's Environmental Health Network and
the Coalition For America's Children
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Children today live in an environment that is vastly different from that of previous generations. Man-made chemicals are found everywhere in our environment, and traces of some of these chemical compounds are found in all animals and humans. The impact on human health from environmental exposure is evident in damage to the nervous system and the brain caused by lead and PCBs, asthma and bronchitis exacerbated by air pollution, and possible effects to hormone and reproductive systems caused by chemicals that mimic hormones (endocrine disrupters). Children are even more vulnerable than adults to health effects from exposures to certain chemicals.
The key to protecting our children is preventing environmental exposures to toxic substances before they happen. Parents, families, and communities all must be involved in prevention. A large responsibility also lies with our elected officials who must join the effort and take a leadership role in protecting the health of our children.
The American people strongly support tough environmental standards that protect children's health. In a 1995 poll conducted by the Coalition for America's Children, 915 of voters agreed that "federal environmental standards should be set at levels strong enough to protect children's health."
Policymakers need to take a stand on the issue of children's environmental health. Here are important facts and some questions to help citizens and candidates determine where they stand on these issues.
Do you know that children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults? Here's why:
Children are in a dynamic state of growth with many vital systems (nervous, reproductive, immune, and respiratory) not yet fully developed at birth. For this reason, exposure to environmental toxicants can disrupt normal development and cause permanent damage.
Children often cannot metabolize, detoxify, or excrete toxins as well as adults.1, 2
Children consume more of certain foods, drink more fluid, and breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, thus increasing their potential exposure to pesticides and other toxicants.
Children crawl on the ground and put their hands, fingers, and objects in their mouths. This normal behavior greatly increases the possibility of exposures through ingestion and contact with dusts and toxicants.3
All children are affected, but children living in racial/ethnic communities or children living in poverty are often disproportionately impacted.4, 5
Do you know that most American children are exposed to chemicals that may affect their health and development?
A wide variety of chemicals and agents can cross the placenta and permanently damage the developing fetus. Among them are: metals such as lead6 and methylmercury7; ethanol; nicotine from environmental tobacco smoke8; and chemicals that stay in the environment such as polychlorinated biphenyls9.
Children are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollutants including air particulates, ozone, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and environmental tobacco smoke.10, 11 During 1991-93, ozone levels exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standard in 104 cities or counties affecting 24% of children under age 13.12
Almost 2 million pre-school children in the U.S. are at risk for exposure to lead.13
Children are exposed to pesticides through food and water, household and garden use, and school and building maintenance.
Do you know that exposures to certain toxicants at particularly vulnerable times in a child's development can cause permanent, irreversible damage?
Ozone, air particulates, and environmental tobacco smoke are known to worsen asthma, bronchitis, and cause a reduction in lung function.10 There has been a 40% increase in childhood asthma since 1980. Currently, over 4 million children in the United States have asthma.14
Lead is a potent neurotoxin known to cause a decrease in IQ, permanent damage to the nervous system, and hyperactivity.15
Pesticides represent a wide range of chemicals that have been associated with cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive and immune system dysfunction, and neurobehavioral impairment.16
Do you know that children are not adequately protected?
Most current federal regulations do not adequately protect children because they are based on data from adults.
Of the more than 70,000 chemicals allowed for use in the U.S. today, few have been tested for their health effects on children.17
Scientists are concerned about chronic low-level exposures as well as multiple and cumulative exposures for children.18
Parents, grandparents, and interested citizens can do their part to help candidates frame a children's platform by asking specific questions about how their positions would meet the needs of children. Here are some questions you can ask to find out who's for kids and who's just kidding when it comes to children's environmental health. Make sure every candidate for public office, at every level of government, takes a stand on the children's environmental health issues facing your region, county, city, or state!
How should environmental legislation specifically address the unique vulnerabilities of children?
Do you intend to advocate for stronger protection of children or do you believe current regulations are sufficient?
What are government's responsibilities in funding research in children's environmental health?
Should a specific share of environmental research funding be devoted to issues unique to children?
What is the responsibility of private industry in funding research in children's environmental health?
Do you believe there is a need to lower levels of ozone and air particulates so that children are better protected?
If so, how will you accomplish this?
Do you support or oppose strengthening the EPA standards on ozone and air particulates?
Would you support the use of alternative fuels and how would you do so?
How will you ensure that all children have a safe drinking water supply?
What specific steps will you take to ensure that the public water supply is free from pesticides, solvents and other chemicals, and harmful microorganisms?
How should funds be secured to support the states for infrastructure maintenance and improvements?
Do you believe that current pesticide regulations sufficiently protect children?
Do you believe we need to reduce our use of pesticides?
What research should government or industry support to lessen our reliance on pesticides?
Should pesticides be used in schools? If yes, how should workers be trained or certified? Should parents be notified when spraying occurs?
If you support reducing pesticide use in schools, how would you accomplish this?
How will you promote agricultural practices that rely on reduced use of pesticides?
What steps will you take to ensure the funding and maintenance of local health infrastructures such as county public health and environmental health departments that protect the public's health (e.g., county health departments screen children for lead exposure)?
Note: The Children's Environmental Health Network is a non-partisan project that does not endorse candidates for public office and no support for individual candidates should be inferred from the above questions. The Children's Environmental Health Network is a member of the Coalition for America's Children, a non-profit alliance of 350 organizations working together to raise public awareness about the importance of children's issues. This publication is an extension of the Coalition's campaign, Who's for Kids and Who's Just Kidding, that helps citizens secure children's platforms from all candidates. Additional materials are available from the Coalition for America's Children, 1634 Eye Street, 12th Floor, Washington DC 20006 or on the Internet at http://www.kidscampaigns.org.
Funds from the Ruth Mott Fund and the W. Alton Jones Foundation have made this document possible.
©1996, Children's Environmental Health Network/California Public Health Foundation
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