Why are children more vulnerable to chemical exposures?

Kids move fast. They can get into things and make a mess in no time at all. So it’s not hard to imagine that children are more vulnerable to accidents than adults. But did you know that children are more vulnerable to chemical exposures?

Little bodies. Because they are small, anything that children eat, drink, or breath is more concentrated in their bodies than it is for adults.

Growing bodies. Children are at greater risk for harm because their bodies are still growing and developing. Some toxic chemicals have similar properties to nutrients that bodies need – so a growing body can mistake a toxin for a nutrient and happily absorb it. For example, lead has properties similar to calcium, so growing bones tend to absorb lead.

Location, location, location. Kids are closer to the ground than adults are. They crawl and play on the ground where heavy metals, dust, dirt, and all sorts of yucky stuff settle. Find out what is in dust here.

Busy little hands and little mouths. Children tend to put hands and objects in their mouths, they touch more stuff, and they don’t always know what something is before licking it or putting it in their mouths. This can lead to unnecessary exposure and accidental poisoning.

What can you do to reduce a child’s exposure? 

Wash hands often. Washing hands is not only effective to reduce germs; it reduces toxic chemicals that wind up on our hands. Heavy metals, pesticides, flame retardants, and other toxics are found in dust and dirt. Often times, chemicals can be all over something we touch without ever knowing it. Washing hands well (rubbing for 30 seconds with soap and warm water) each time you come inside, before nap time – especially for thumb suckers, after using the restroom, and before eating or handling food is one of the easiest ways to reduce exposure. 

Choose least toxic products. Household cleaning products, yard products, or even personal care products (like shampoo and lotion) can contain toxic chemicals. Choose green cleaning methods or purchase cleaning products that do not say Danger or Poison on the label.  Use the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to help you make safer choices for cleaning products. The Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is an easy-to-use tool to research safer personal care products. The Environmental Working Group organizes many consumer guidesthat can be helpful in making purchasing decisions for you and your family. To find the least toxic lawn and garden products use Grow Smart, Grow Safe, available onlineor download the free app.
Store and use products safely.  Keep hazardous products locked up and out of reach of children.  When using hazardous products, keep track of where the kids are.  The poison control center reports more children are getting poisoned when products are in use. For some prevention tips, see our recent blog post, 8 Tips to Prevent Accidental Poisoning in Children. 

Manage dust. Vacuum well each week (or more if you have a lot of dust) and use a water-dampened cloth to dust hard surfaces. Microfiber cloths work great. 

Clean toys regularly. Toys get dusty and dirty. Toys go in hands and mouths. 

Provide nutritious foods. When growing children have enough nutrition, they are less likely to absorb some toxic materials. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for food planning and tracking tools.
We can’t always control all of the chemicals around us. But, we absolutely can reduce our chemical exposure by taking some of the simple steps listed above.

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