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Children's Environmental Health

The environment affects children differently than adults. Because their bodies are still growing, children are at greater risk if they are exposed to environmental contaminants. Contaminants are anything that can cause something to become unclean, polluted, or not pure. They can be found anywhere and some are unsafe. A toddler playing in dirt contaminated with high levels of lead can become sick from lead poisoning. A child with asthma playing outside when the air quality is bad may have an asthma attack.

Environmental hazards are not just outside, but can also be found inside a child's home or school. Children living in older homes with lead-based paint can get sick from breathing lead dust or swallowing chipping paint. Drinking water from a private well and even a community water system is also a concern if it's contaminated. Bacteria and other harmful chemicals can be a threat to anyone's health, but especially to young children.

Children are not little adults—their bodies are not the same as adult bodies. Because they are small and still developing, they are more easily exposed to environmental contaminants and here's why:

  • Children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food per pound of body weight than adults.
  • Children are more likely to put their hands in their mouth.
  • A child's body may not be able to break down and get rid of harmful contaminants that enter their body.
  • Health problems from an environmental exposure can take years to develop. Because they are young, children have more time to develop health conditions and diseases than adults who are exposed later in their life.

Much about how the environment can affect our health is unknown. What we do know is that environmental hazard exposure can affect a child's growth and development. The Tracking Network's information on children's environmental health can help you understand how you can protect children from environmental exposures so they can live a safer, healthier lives.

Monitor Child Development

From birth throughout childhood, children are constantly learning and growing. One way to support positive development is to monitor your child's developmental milestones - how they play, learn, speak and act. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a developmental problem. Recognizing and treating a problem early can help a child reach his or her full potential. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you notice that your child is not reaching common milestones. Read more about developmental milestones and positive parenting tips.

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