October is Children’s Health Month and a great opportunity to stand up for clean energy and clean air policies that will protect human health, especially children’s health since they are the most vulnerable and most sensitive to dangerous pollutants in our air and water. For example, children have increased exposures to environmental contaminants, especially air pollution, since they typically spend lots of time outdoors and respirate at a higher level than adults do – breathing in more toxins with each breath.
Emissions from cars, diesel engines, fires, road dust, and coal and natural gas-burning power plants all contribute to poor outdoor air quality and can have major impacts on children’s respiratory systems, including causing asthma and/or “triggering” flare ups, episodes or attacks.
Mercury, a potent neurotoxin that is emitted from coal fired power plants, can also cause a range of developmental and learning disorders in children. For example, when mercury passes from pregnant or nursing mothers to their babies, it can cause a range of negative impacts including impairment of cognition, memory, attention, language, fine motor skills and visual spatial skills. Some babies have even been born with severe disabilities due to mercury exposure even when their mothers show no signs of exposure.The good news is that the Environmental Protection Agency has been a staunch advocate for reducing and even preventing harmful environmental exposures to children. For more than 40 years, EPA has administered the Clean Air Act (CAA) which has played an important role in reducing health impacts from polluting emissions. And this summer, EPA proposed new standards to reduce the health impacts from unseen pollutants like greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Reducing GHG emissions will not only help mitigate climate change, but will also protect children’s health by reducing pollutants that aggravate asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Children, dependent upon adults and society for their well-being, deserve our focused attention and care. Protecting the health of children is integral to improving our environment, both during Children’s Health Month and throughout the year.