Kids Are Not Little Adults: Why Children Are More At Risk From Environmental Toxin Exposures

To understand the reasons that environmental chemicals present a greater impact to children, it is important to understand that adults are not large children and children are not merely little adults. Children take into their bodies more environmental toxins than adults and they have different metabolic pathways to clear those environmental toxins from their bodies. Let’s look at the various differences that put children more at risk.

  1. Because of the rapid metabolic and cellular growth rate of children, comparing a child’s body mass to an adult’s body mass, children consume more food and drink more water than adults. Their respiratory rate is faster so they breathe in more air than adults in the same amount of time. When that food, water, or air is contaminated, the child receives a proportionately larger dose of those toxins than an adult. Pathway Environmental
  2. Children have unique behaviors that allow them to come into contact with environmental toxins more often. Children mouth objects in their environment to learn about them. They crawl on hands and knees and then place their hands in their mouths. If the surface that they were crawling on is carpeting that has been traveled over with shoes worn outside through pesticide-treated grass, the child has just unwittingly received a dose of pesticide through the skin and mouth.
  3. Clearing the toxins once they are inside the body is a more difficult task for a child’s body. The metabolic pathways the body uses to detoxify some chemicals or excrete them are not as developed in children’s cells compared to an adult. Once the toxic load enters the body, it has a much more difficult time finding its way out and therefore accumulates in higher concentration.
  4. Children are lower to the ground and therefore more susceptible to contaminants in soil, dust and volatilized gases from the ground such as radon or mercury vapors and chemicals that are emitted from carpeting.
  5. The neurological connections developing throughout embryology and early childhood are particularly susceptible to disruptions in the sequencing and timing. When a toxic exposure occurs during these critical sequences, the neurologic effects can be permanent and irreversible even if the toxin is later removed from the body.
  6. Children exposed to toxins early in their life which have a long latency period may not express the effects of that exposure until adulthood or late adulthood. Examples of this are certain types of cancer that are associated with chemical exposure such as lymphomas from benzene and/or pesticide exposure or skin cancer in adulthood after exposure to UV radiation during childhood.
  7. A child’s gastrointestinal tract is better at absorption than an adult’s. This is a good thing if you are a child absorbing calcium for your growing bones but a bad thing if you just ingested lead-based paint chips.

There is much that can be done to reduce environmental toxin exposure starting in your own home. One small step can make a huge difference in lowering the toxic exposure for a child. Simple changes include:

  • Buying organic produce, especially the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen items in the organic form to reduce pesticide exposure.
  • Using non-toxic cleaners including water, baking soda, white vinegar and lemon juice to reduce the load of harsh chemicals in your home.
  • Switch to cast iron cookware or stainless steel instead of non-stick cookware to cut down on PFC (perfluorocarbon) exposure.
  • Store food in the refrigerator in glass containers, instead of plastic to avoid BPA (bisphenol A).
  • Choose foods that do not come in cans, especially acidic foods such as tomato-based products and soups, to reduce BPA exposure.
  • Have your home tested for radon. Check to see if your child’s school has been tested.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid places where there is environmental tobacco smoke otherwise known as second-hand smoke.

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