Children and Household Chemicals

Why kids are more vulnerable than adults

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As human beings, we come in contact with toxic substances and chemicals every single day. We often don’t think about it as we go about our daily lives, and we may not think enough about the association between children and household chemicals. Some chemicals do offer multiple advantages, such as reducing disease and improving health, upholding cleanliness and hygiene in our homes, and assisting farmers with food production. However, there are also household chemicals and toxic substances we need to keep an eye on for the health and safety of our families, especially the younger members. We use laundry detergents and fabric softeners that have added fragrance, we apply lotions with pthalates, and we often heat our foods in plastic containers which can cause BPA to leak into food.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that many chemicals, when not used properly and when used around the wrong population, can pose risks to human and animal health. Dr. Robert Miller, an early leader in the field of children’s environmental health, was the first scientist to come to the realization that “fetuses, infants and children are unusually sensitive to a wide range of environmental hazards.”


Why do we need to be more careful when it comes to our children and household chemicals and foods?

WHO offers four main reasons why children are more susceptible to the chemicals surrounding them and the foods they eat.

  1. Ongoing development. Children are constantly developing physically, psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually. If children are exposed to toxic chemicals at critical periods of their development, this can potentially affect their emerging behaviour patterns, damage their growing nervous systems, have negative effects on their reproductive systems, or even make them less resistant to disease and illness.
  2. Body size. Children are smaller than adults and often receive higher relative exposures to pollutants found in air, water, and food because of their size. They also eat more food, drink more liquids and breathe more air per unit of body weight than adults do.
  3. Life expectancy. Children have a longer life expectancy. Therefore, they have more time to acquire diseases that have a long inactivity period (e.g. cancer), and consequently longer to live with the damage that comes from the disease and/or illness.
  4. Exploratory behaviour. Children also love to explore, and this places them at higher risk than adults for certain environmental hazards. As a result of their exploratory behaviour, frequent hand-to-mouth activity, and proximity to the ground - they are more likely to come in contact with sources of contamination.


What can you do?

Dusting regularly and choosing non-toxic household products can go a long way in reducing toxic chemicals in your home. With thousands and thousands of household products and foods on the market, it can be difficult to choose something that is safe for the entire family. Remember to read your labels, do your research and consult with experts when needed. Here are some great resources to help you on your way:

Think Dirty App: Provides a rating of personal and baby care products based on their ingredients. You can even shop for replacements within the app.

EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning: Rates cleaning products and provides details of what the ingredients are (especially handy because cleaning products don’t have to list all ingredients on the label).

EWG’s Dirty Dozen Food List: A list of the fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residues, and which ones have the least.

Guide to Eco-Friendlier Diapers: Find a diaper that’s free of toxic chemicals.

*Originally published June 14, 2016