Children's Environmental Health Program 2014 Report to the Legislature

Protecting the health and future of our children is important to all Californians. In recognition of the fact that children are often differentially impacted by environmental contaminants, the Children’s Environmental Health Program was established in the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) by the Children’s Environmental Health Protection Act (Escutia, Chapter 731, Statutes of 1999). The program is responsible for ensuring that Cal/EPA’s existing expertise and programs specifically protect children’s health in California. The Children’s Environmental Health Program serves as a resource for Cal/EPA and the State of California, performs outreach and education for the medical and public health community as well as for the general public, and coordinates with the Cal/EPA boards and departments to promote policies and efforts that protect children’s health.

Children can be more affected by environmental chemicals than adults. They eat, drink, and breathe more per pound of body weight than adults. Thus, children’s exposures to contaminants in our air, water, and food are higher than an adult in the same setting. Because children are still growing and developing, they can be more sensitive to the adverse health effects of chemicals than an adult. In some cases, the effects are irreversible. It is increasingly recognized that exposures early in life affect adult health. Thus, the work of the Cal/EPA Boards, Departments and Offices (BDOs) reducing children’s exposures to environmental chemicals benefits Californians throughout their lifetime.

This report summarizes information from recent studies on the status of children’s health as well as effects of environmental contaminants on California’s children. The report focuses on four areas of health and development that can be impacted by environmental contaminants: asthma and respiratory disease, adverse birth outcomes, neurodevelopment, and cancer. These are of concern to all parents, and are burdensome in terms of medical and educational costs, life-long health and potential. These diseases have large impacts personally to the children, their families, and communities. Often children of lower socio-economic status are most highly exposed and least resilient in overcoming the impacts associated with exposure to environmental contaminants. In each section, the report highlights Cal/EPA BDO programs that protect the health of California’s children.

Cal/EPA BDOs must continue to reduce exposures to environmental chemicals to enhance public health. These actions improve quality of life and reduce health care costs. While we have made strides in cleaning our air, water, and land, much more remains to be done. Specifically, Cal/EPA BDOs should continue to:

  • evaluate and reduce the impacts of contaminants in our air, water, soil, food, and consumer products on children’s health, including in the home, school, and daycare environments
  • evaluate and reduce the cumulative burdens on children of environmental contaminants, climate change, and health disparities; it is essential that Cal/EPA continue its work to evaluate how cumulative burdens increase vulnerability to environmental chemical exposures
  • measure the chemicals in our bodies through biomonitoring to more fully understand exposures to common environmental contaminants
  • focus efforts on reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing reuse and recycling to reduce our environmental footprint for future generations
  • improve the flow of information from the Children’s Environmental Health Research Centers and other researchers to Cal/EPA scientists and policymakers in order to help address children’s environmental health