Environmental Health Issues Facing Young Children in San FranciscoChildren are suffering in increasing numbers from asthma, autism, ADHD, childhood cancers and other diseases and learning, behavioral and developmental disabilities that can last for a lifetime. Exposures to toxic chemicals in consumer home products [e.g. air fresheners, cleansers, and pesticides], household furnishings and drapes, personal care products like cosmetics and clothes and more, are being linked to these diseases and disabilities. Our efforts to prevent children's exposures to toxic chemicals are especially important because children are not little adults and they are exposed to greater amounts of environmental toxins than adults. Beginning as fetuses, children are much more vulnerable to toxic chemical exposures. Their nervous, respiratory, reproductive and immune systems are just beginning to develop. They are in a dynamic state of growth, with cells multiplying and organ systems developing at a rapid rate. Young children breathe more rapidly, inhale more air, eat more food and drink more liquids in proportion to their body weight. Their metabolic rates are higher. Their system for excreting toxins is less efficient. They may retain more toxins per exposure than adults because their bodies mistakenly "think" that it is useful, e.g. lead. Children remain more vulnerable to some toxic exposures through young adulthood. Unfortunately, most government standards used for limiting exposures are based on adult exposures, and there are many questions about the scientific accuracy of these standards and whether they are protective enough even for adults. Children act like children and engage in behaviors that often expose them to environmental toxins, like mouthing toys and putting dirty hands in their mouths while crawling on dusty floors and/or rugs full of toxins. Further, indoor air is often more hazardous than outdoor air, especially for young children. The Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] recently reported that many children's bodies contain numerous environmental toxins. Recently, the Environmental Working Group went as step further when it tested babies' blood cord samples taken at birth and found up to two hundred toxic chemicals in fetuses' blood. Other biomonitoring tests reveal that many small children's bodies contain more toxins than their parents, which isn't good because adults' bodies contain numerous hazardous substances according to the studies done by the federal Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Working Group, Commonweal and the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Unfortunately, mothers can pass harmful toxic chemicals to their fetuses and young children. We have to be concerned about mothers' exposures to toxins when they are fetuses and young children. Some toxins can remain in a body for a lifetime, and a lead-exposed female child can pass that toxin on to her unborn and recent born children many years after the exposure occurred. In addition, mothers and mothers-to-be can expose their fetuses and infants to toxins from current exposures to toxins in workplaces and their own homes. Unfortunately, the popular phrase "all children can learn" is not true for growing numbers of children exposed to hazards in their environment [their mothers' wombs, homes and public facilities]. Children in San Francisco's low-income, diverse communities are especially vulnerable to environmental toxins. Children in low-income minority communities are exposed to higher than average levels of environmental hazards, particularly in their homes and public facilities. San Francisco has one of the highest percentages of renters in the country [65-70 percent]. That percentage is even greater in low-income and minority communities where parents often have little control over the condition, maintenance and repair of their homes. Many low-income families live in unhealthy, over-crowded, substandard public and private housing. Most of this housing is literally painted with lead. Ninety-four percent of all homes in San Francisco were built before lead was banned from residential paint. San Francisco's percentage of pre-1950 built housing is the fourth highest in the entire country. These homes are often contaminated with a variety of other toxins, including solvents, asbestos, mold, fire retardants, formaldehyde, vinyl-laced products and pesticides. San Francisco's public facilities are similarly coated with lead paint and contain many of the same toxic chemical hazards that are in children's homes. Few city and community resources are invested in effective environmental disease prevention efforts. In addition, these same children may not be eating properly and are exposed to a number of social "toxins" that can exacerbate the affect of toxic chemical exposures on their physical and mental well-being. There are large numbers of poor children at high risk for exposures to environmental toxins in San Francisco. More than 50 percent of San Francisco's children under six live in families whose income is lower than 200 percent of the federal poverty level [$26,580 for a family of three in 2003] in one of the highest living cost areas in the country. This compares with 41 percent of children under six nationwide living below 200 percent of the poverty level. Poor families face many challenges just to survive. In addition, 40 percent of San Francisco's residents do not speak English as a first language. These families require behavioral change information in different languages and in culturally appropriate settings from people they trust. Information about preventing children's exposure to environmental hazards needs to be easily accessible for it to change their behavior. Unfortunately, that access is very limited.
Healthy Environments=Healthy Children=Healthy Families=Healthy CommunitiesLearn more about the latest research on children's environmental health.
HCOP uses the latest research available to learn about the links between environmental hazards and children's health. You can be informed as well by visiting the following websites on children's health. We also list a number of useful sites in the healthy housing, schools, precautionary principle and helpful links sections that follow. The Institute for Children's Environmental Health [ICEH] is leading a national collaboration of learning disability advocates and researchers connected with the Collaborative for Health and the Environment. It has a substantial amount of information about children's environmental health basics on its website: http://www.iceh.org. See also the children's learning disability information collected on the Collaborative for Health and the Environments' website.http://www.healthandenvironment.org The Environmental Working Group [EWG] recently published a report on the toxins found in babies' blood cord samples. It has also issued a report on toxins found in specific adults, and it has an extensive database describing the toxins found in personal care products and health care products sold for use by infants and toddlers. http://www.ewg.org/ Environment California produced an excellent report on children's exposures to environmental hazards and the links to developmental diseases: "Growing Up Toxic: Chemical Exposures and Increases in Developmental Diseases." See also its new report on dangerous plastic toxins prevalent in newborns at : http://www.environmentcalifornia.org/envirocaliftoxics.asp?id2=13673 The federal Environmental Protection Agency has a website on the latest information about protecting children's health from environmental hazards. It includes a seminal report and updates on children's "body burdens," or the levels of toxic chemicals found in their bodies, as well as tips on how to protect children and information on potential environmental hazards. Visit the EPA - Children's Health Protection website at : http://yosemite.epa.gov/ochp/ochpweb.nsf/homepage Children's Health Environmental Coalition [CHEC] is a national non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public, specifically parents and caregivers, about environmental toxins that affect children's health. It contains several useful features including a link to an extensive database about home and personal care products containing toxic chemicals and alternatives that can be used. http://www.checnet.org/ Mt. Sinai's School of Medicine in New York City established the Center for Children's Health and the Environment (CCHE) as the nation's first academic research and policy center to examine the links between exposure to toxic pollutants and childhood illness. Its website includes powerful public health ads published in the New York Times on children's environmental health issues and cites to scientific research papers supporting the ads. http://www.childenvironment.org/index.htm The Children's Environmental Health Network [CEHN] is a national multi-disciplinary organization whose mission is to protect the fetus and the child from environmental health hazards and promote a healthy environment. The website provides information on children's environmental health issues. http://www.cehn.org/ The Pesticide Action Network North America's [PANNA] website features a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on the analysis of pesticide-related data in children. The report finds that children shoulder the heaviest "pesticide body burden." Click on the link below to read the details of this first-time public report. See also related information on the Californians for Pesticide Reform's website. http://www.panna.org/campaigns/docsTrespass/chemicalTrespass2004.dv.html The Alliance for Healthy Homes website contains good information on how to make housing healthy for children:http://www.aeclp.org. It was formerly known as the Alliance to Prevent Childhood Lead Poisoning. The California Air Resources Board [CARB] recently published a report to the State Legislature describing the many indoor air toxins with emphasis on children's special vulnerabilities to many of these toxins and the link between them and childhood diseases and disabilities. It stated once again that the affect of indoor air exposures on children's health can be worse than outdoor air pollution. See the final report at this web address. http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/ab1173/rpt0705-c-es.pdf See also "Helpful Links" section for additional environmental health information links.