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Environmental Assessment

Children's Health

The Issue
To discuss children's health, we first would like to mention the concept of "life stages," since a person's age can influence how susceptible they are to the health risks posed by pollutants in the environment. Children and the elderly are often most at increased risk.

Children are often more heavily exposed to toxins in the environment than adults because pound for pound, children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food than adults. Children's behavior patterns, such as playing close to the ground, increase their exposure to potential toxics. In addition, children may be more vulnerable to environmental hazards because their systems are still developing, which often makes them less able to metabolize, detoxify, and excrete toxins. Environmental risks to children include asthma-exacerbating air pollution, lead-based paint in older homes, treatment-resistant microbes in drinking water, and persistent chemicals that may cause cancer or induce reproductive or developmental harm.

Older adults may be more vulnerable due to age-related diseases and because age can alter physiological processes. The increasing percentage of older Americans heightens the need to understand how a person's susceptibility to environmental hazards increases with age.

EPA Action
Protecting children's and the elderly's health from environmental risks is fundamental to EPA's mission and is a key component of its research efforts. EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment has provided leadership in the Agency's efforts to protect children and the elderly through its publication of key resource documents. Links to these publications are provided below.

Protecting Children
An EPA-wide policy was established in 1995 to ensure that environmental health risks of children are explicitly and consistently taken into consideration. In 1996, EPA published its National Agenda to Protect Children's Health From Environmental Threats; and, in 1997, EPA established the Office of Children's Health Protection (OCHP) to implement EPA's commitment to protect children from environmental health hazards. The mission of OCHP is to make the health protection of children and the aging a fundamental goal of public health and environmental protection in the United States and around the world.

Protecting the Elderly
In 2002, EPA launched the Aging Initiative to develop a National Agenda for the Environment and the Aging to help guide the Agency's efforts to protect the health of older persons. The National Agenda for the Environment and the Aging will

  • prioritize environmental health hazards that affect older persons,
  • examine the environmental impact of an aging population in a smart growth context, and
  • encourage civic involvement among older persons in their communities to reduce hazards.
Related Links

Best Resources

U.S. EPA. Highlights of the Child-Specific Exposure Factors Handbook (Final Report). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-08/135, 2009.

U.S. EPA. Child-Specific Exposure Factors Handbook (Final Report) 2008. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-06/096F, 2008.

U.S. EPA. A Framework for Assessing Health Risk of Environmental Exposures to Children (Final). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-05/093F, 2006.

U.S. EPA. Aging and Toxic Response: Issues Relevant to Risk Assessment (Final). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

U.S. EPA. Strategy for Research on Environmental Risks to Children. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-00/068.

U.S. EPA. Guidelines for Developmental Toxicity Risk Assessment. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Risk Assessment Forum, Washington, DC, EPA/600/FR-91/001, 1991.

Interagency Coordinating Comm. The National Children's Study of Environmental Effects on Child Health and Development. , ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES 111(4): 640-646, (2003).

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