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Children are not little adults. When it comes to environmental contaminants, you can’t compare (little) apples to (big) apples.

Compared to adults, children face greater health risks from environmental exposures. Here’s why:

  • Children breathe more air, eat more food, and drink more water per pound of bodyweight than adults do.
  • Children have different behaviors. Crawling, exploring, teething, and putting things in their mouth will expose them to more contaminants.
  • Children are still developing. For example, the brain grows the fastest in the first 3 to 6 years, so the brain is at its most vulnerable then.
  • Environment-related health problems (e.g. cancer) can take years to develop. Children have more time in their life to develop health conditions than adults exposed later in life.
  • Children’s bodies may not be able to get rid of harmful contaminants that enter the body as well.

Environmental contaminants can be found inside or outside the home.

  • Breathing in polluted air outside can cause more hospital visits for children with asthma. About 12% of children (aged 5-14) in Massachusetts have asthma.
  • Children living in older homes with lead-based paint can get sick from breathing lead dust or swallowing paint chips containing lead.  About 70% of homes in Massachusetts were built before 1978 and may still have lead-based paint.

The Massachusetts Environmental Public Health Tracking Network has data on many children’s health issues affected by the environment:

  • Asthma
  • Childhood lead poisoning
  • Cancer
  • Developmental disabilities

Learn more at and

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