Children's Environmental Health

The environment affects children differently than adults. Because their bodies are still growing, children are at greater risk if they are exposed to environmental contaminants. Contaminants are anything that can cause something to become unclean, polluted or not pure. They can be found anywhere and some are unsafe.  

Children are particularly vulnerable to environmental contaminants due to their rapid development from before they are born through early childhood. Children’s age-appropriate behavior also exposes them to hazards. They crawl and play on the floor or in the yard where they can be exposed to harmful substances, and they are more likely to put their hands in their mouth. Additionally, their physical size puts children at greater risk of exposure. From birth, children breathe more air, drink more water and eat more food per pound of body weight than adults. An infant’s breathing rate is more than twice that of an adult. Their bodies may not be able to break down and get rid of harmful contaminants that enter their body.

Health problems from an environmental exposure can take years to develop. Because they are young, children have more time to develop health conditions and diseases than adults who are exposed later in their life. Much about how the environment can affect our health is unknown. What we do know is, environmental hazard exposure can affect a child’s growth and development.

More resources about preventing environmental risks for children and protecting their health and well-being are below.


Participate in Pediatric Environmental Health Training

Draw on the expertise of the Pediatric Environmental Health Subspecialty Unit (PEHSU) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Advocate for greater environmental protections locally, statewide, regionally, and nationally.

Learn more about Environmental Health yourself.

Additional Information

Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN)

American Public Health Association (APHA): Environmental Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Children’s Environmental Health

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Environmental Health

Pediatric Environmental Health Subspecialty Unit (PEHSU): Toolkit

Last Reviewed: 8/18/2023