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Toxic Chemicals - Children and the Environment


  • Published: 2014-01-16 (Revised/Updated 2017-06-28) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Article looks at some of the toxic substances found in the environment today and their possible effects on children.

Children today live in an environment that is very different from the environment of 50 years ago. In a number of ways, their world is actually better. The traditional infectious diseases have largely been eradicated. Infant mortality is vastly reduced. The expected lifespan of a baby born in America is more than 2 decades longer than that of an infant born in the year 1900.

Yet at the same time, children today face hazards that were not known or imagined just a few decades ago. Children are at risk of exposure to thousands of new synthetic chemicals. Since World War II, greater than 80,000 new chemicals have been created. Many of these chemicals have been dispersed widely into the environment. Some of them will persist in the environment for decades or centuries. The majority of these chemicals did not previously exist in nature.

Almost 3,000 chemicals are, 'high-production-volume (HPV) chemicals. These chemicals are produced every single year in quantities greater than one-million pounds. HPV chemicals are used extensively in homes, schools, as well as communities. The chemicals are widely dispersed in water, air, waste sites and soil.

Greater than 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released by industry into the nation's environment each and every single year, to include 72 million pounds of recognized carcinogens. Of the top 20 chemicals discharged into our environment, almost 75% are known or suspected to be toxic to the developing human brain. A number of things make these chemicals a threat to children's health:

Toxins in the Environment

A number of toxins have the ability to affect a child's health. It is important to be aware of these toxins and understand the risks they present to children and adults. Some of the toxins that can affect a person's health include:

Chemicals play a huge role in our everyday lives. They are a part of what we eat, how we live, as well as how we work. Despite their prevalence in our lives, a number of chemicals are toxic or hazardous. Toxic chemicals may be found in our water, air, soil, and even our own bodies. The contamination has seriously affected the health of people and wildlife everywhere.

Children are often times more vulnerable than adults are to the harmful effects of chemical pollutants because they are developing and growing rapidly. Children's behavior, to include increased hand-to-mouth activity, a tendency to crawl and play in spaces that might be contaminated, as well as a lack of awareness concerning appropriate safety and sanitary habits, place them at increased risk. In some instances, childhood exposure to toxins may cause serious health damage to a person later in their life.

Chart showing effects of toxic chemicalsAbout This Image: Chart showing effects of toxic chemicalsOur built environments, including residential areas, schools, and work places, may all be sites of hazardous chemical contamination. A number of toxic chemicals can be found in your own home.

Household Products

Household products such as floor and furniture polish, detergent, paint, and a number of cleaning products for wood, metal, glass, toilets, ovens, and drains - may all contain hazardous chemicals such as sulfuric and phosphoric acids, ammonia, formaldehyde, chlorine, and phenol. Air fresheners may also contain chemicals that are harmful to your health. Art supplies such as paint, markers or glue can also contain toxic materials. If not handled properly, these products can make your home environment a dangerous place, particularly for children.

Home Furnishings

Home furnishings such as curtains, carpeting, some furniture and wall decorations may be treated with chemicals and are potentially dangerous. It is important to be aware that a few days after installation, new carpets emit volatile organic compounds which are chemicals associated with carpet manufacturing that may be harmful to both people and the environment. Wood and gas stoves and kerosene heaters can also release dangerous chemicals.

Building Materials

Building materials such as insulation, particle board, and treated wood used for decks and outdoor furniture, may also present health threats. Some play sets and toys, as well as outdoor swing sets and play grounds, might be treated with toxic chemicals. They may be made from toxic plastics, or include hazardous materials. The more time children spend playing in an environment with these dangers, the greater their exposure to toxic chemicals. The more they are exposed to these toxic chemicals, the greater the risk is to their health. Some different health effects may result from exposure to toxic chemicals, to include:

The health effects resulting from exposure depend upon a number of factors, including how toxic the chemical is and the degree to which a person has been exposed. There are some ways to help protect children from toxic chemicals in their homes and at school.

Make an effort to use non-toxic products

Use natural products for cleaning such as baking soda, vinegar, soda ash, and cream of tartar. A number of non-toxic products can be found in health food stores and some supermarkets. Check labels carefully and keep all products that are hazardous well-marked and away from children. Check to see if different household and school appliances, learning materials, and toys are hazardous. Keep playing, living and learning areas - particularly the bathroom and kitchen, clean and safe. Take the time to educate yourself and learn more about toxic chemicals. Become active with groups that work to promote policies designed to protect children from toxic chemicals.

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