& Clean Air
Clean Air Council
Trends in Children's
Drastic increases in the rates of chronic
childhood illnesses are sweeping the United States and
rest of the world.
While the causes of
these increases are not fully understood, they
ultimately lie in an interaction of genetics and the
environment. The rate of change is of such a high level
that it would be unreasonable to attribute it to a major
shift in human genetics. More likely, genetic
predispositions are coming to light due to increased
pressure from the environmental factors. The majority of
evidence indicates that now more than ever, the
environment is influencing our health and the health of
5 million children (7%) in the United States suffer from
asthma. The rate of prevalence increased by 74% and the
number of children dying from asthma increased threefold
between 1979 and 1996.
cancer rates have risen dramatically, with cancers of
the Central Nervous System increasing by 25%, incidences
of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia increasing by 20%, and an
average increase in all cancer rates of 10%.
Children Are Different From Adults!
Children are both exposed to more
pollution and are more susceptible to the effects of
Exposure—Children are exposed to more pollution per unit
of body weight than adults are.
breathe, eat, and drink more for their body weight than
adults. This increase percentage of intake means that
the amount of pollution in our air, food, and water has
a much more significant effect on children's health than
it does on the health of an adult.
behavior also increases their exposure to environmental
toxicants. Children touch more things and put more
things in their mouths as a way of exploring their
environment. Also, their close proximity to the ground
and car exhaust pipes increases their exposure.
Susceptibility—Children's bodies react differently to
environmental toxicants than adults' do.
are often less able to metabolize and remove foreign
compounds than adults. In addition, children's bodies
often absorb these compounds at a higher rate than
immune systems are still immature and are often not
developed enough to provide adequate protection from
bodies are still developing, and exposure to
environmental toxins has an impact on how this
development progresses. Developmental problems can
manifest themselves as physical deficits and disorders
as well as disorders of the central nervous system
resulting in psychological deficits.
children are still at the beginning of their lives, the
effects of environmental toxicants have more time to
accumulate and manifest themselves.
Common air pollutants, such
as ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and
sulfur dioxides are associated with increased
respiratory illnesses and symptoms, aggravation of
asthma, and decreases in lung function in children. One
recent study found an association between particulate
air pollution and an increased risk of infant mortality.
In 1995, about 18
million children under the age of 10 lived in areas with
air quality that did not meet federal standards. Parents
can protect children by checking air pollution levels
regularly where they live, limiting children's outdoor
exercise when air pollution levels are high, and
ensuring that the child's school is prepared for smog
Reforms needed to
protect children include improving standards for air
pollutants, particularly by implementing the newly
revised ozone and particulate matter standards, and
adopting more aggressive programs to control air