Children's Health Protection
Children are often more heavily exposed to toxins in the environment. Pound for pound, children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food than adults. Their behavior patterns, such as playing close to the ground and hand-to-mouth activity, increase their exposure to potential toxics. In addition, they may be more vulnerable to environmental hazards because their systems are still developing, often making them less able than adults 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 changes.
Protecting children's health from environmental pollutants has been a major concern for EPA. An Agency-wide policy to ensure that environmental health risks of children are explicitly and consistently evaluated in our risk assessments, risk characterizations, and environmental and public health standards was established in 1995. In 1996 a National Agenda to Protect Children's Health From Environmental Threats that expanded the Agency's activities aimed at ensuring a consistent approach to improving risk assessments to specifically address children's risks was adopted. EPA is committed to protecting all children from environmental health threats by fully considering risks to children and addressing those risks, where appropriate, in national health-based environmental standards.
Every individual, government agency, corporation, community, and organization will 1) understand the link between children's health and the environment, and 2) take positive action to improve children's environmental health.
OCHP's Strategy for Accomplishing its Goal
Building Infrastructure & Capacity: Federal agencies, states, communities, and private sector entities, such as health care providers, must have the knowledge, resources and capacity needed to institutionalize children's environmental health in the way they do business. OCHP invests substantial effort to assure that protecting children from environmental threats is a continuing effort and integrated into public health considerations.
Increasing Awareness of Environmental Hazards That Affect Children: Recognizing, that while government and other organizations can do much to help protect children from environmental threats, communities, parents, and other care-givers can do a lot to reduce children's exposure to pollutants, OCHP has worked to raise awareness about environmental threats and provided information and resources to enable others to take action.
OCHP supports and facilitates Agency efforts in three primary areas: 1) regulations and standards, 2) science and risk assessment, and 3) public awareness, community-based programs, and education. In addition to work within EPA, OCHP plays a vital role working with other Federal departments and agencies, and others on efforts to protect children from environmental health threats
Outreach and Partnerships
Public involvement is key to protecting human health and the environment. Citizens and communities need to have information and tools that enable them to take steps toward protecting their children from environmental health threats. Organizations, industry and government entities at all levels also need information to help them take child-protective actions. Providing basic information is a key focus of OCHP.
OCHP efforts to build community capacity in children's environmental health protection include: 1) providing information and tools to the public; 2) supporting community actions to protect children; 3) increasing the ability of health professionals to identify, prevent, and reduce environmental health threats to children; 4) engaging youth in children's environmental health protection; and 5) working with states to develop programs to address children's environmental health issues.
Research and Risk Assessment
The state of the science in children's environmental health is generally regarded to be in its infancy because we do not routinely have the information needed to conduct risk assessments. Traditionally, toxicologists have focused on the general adult population. Recently, EPA has begun a research effort to better understand how children differ from adults. The enormous task that faces the EPA and other federal agencies in the next several decades, is to expand research on the influence of environmental pollution on children's development and disease. OCHP serves as a catalyst and champion for research efforts on children's environmental health.
OCHP provides strong leadership in EPA in reshaping the Agency's policy on science and risk assessment for children's environmental health by working with Agency scientists to modify current approaches to accommodate age-specific biological differences when conducting exposure assessments and quantitative risk assessments.
Standards and Regulations
To protect the nation's children from harm due to exposure to environmental contamination, EPA's standards need to consider and address risk to children that are potentially different than risks to adults. EPA's traditional method of setting human health protection standards has relied almost exclusively on the assessment of risks to adults. This kind of broad focus is understandable, given how little was understood about environmental risk before 1970. It was assumed that people were comparable in terms of their response to exposures to pollution. As we learned more about the effects of environmental contaminants on human health, the differences among subsets of the population, particularly differences among children and adults, began to emerge. A 1993 National Academy of Sciences Report Pesticides in the Diet of Infants and Children concluded that scientific and regulatory approaches at the time did not adequately protect infants and children from pesticide residues in food.