Why Children are More Vulnerable than Adults

There is much interest now in the vulnerability of children to environmental toxins. Here we will list several sources and characteristics. We invite you to visit our website and healthyenvironmentforkids.ca for more in-depth discussions of the topic.

This is a different world than the one our parents and grandparents were conceived in and grew up in. Children are exposed regularly to many more chemicals in homes, clothing, toys, personal products, outdoor and indoor air, water and food. We now know that tiny amounts of these chemicals can have effects on the human body and can cross the placenta. We also recognize that there are “windows of opportunity”, or periods during fetus development in the womb and during childhood, when the body is more susceptible to changes caused by chemical exposures.

  • Babies’ skin is more absorbent than adult skin.
  • Children have a longer lifetime ahead of them and therefore a longer time to accumulate pollutants and to experience the results.
  • Children are also vulnerable because they rely on adults to notice and protect them from dangers.
  • Children are not little adults. International research concludes that children may be “uniquely vulnerable” to the hazards posed by air pollutants:
    • Children are exposed to greater levels of chemicals because they breathe more air as a percentage of their body weight than adults and because they may be more susceptible physiologically to the hazards associated with such exposures.(The U.S. National Academy of Sciences)
    • At present, air quality and workplace hazard standards are based on research predominantly done on healthy, 170 lb., adult males. Residential standards (where they exist) are somewhat more useful than workplace standards.
    • There have not yet been safe exposure levels determined for children, the ill, for women or the fetus.


  • Larger body surface area in relation to weight
  • Higher metabolic rate and oxygen consumption and intake of air per unit of body weight
  • Different body composition
  • Greater energy and fluid requirements per unit of body weight
  • Special dietary needs
  • Rapid growth, during which chemicals may affect growth or become incorporated into tissues
  • Functionally immature organs and body systems
  • The state of nutrition and Total Body Pollutant Load in the mother’s uterus
  • The state of nutrition and Total Body Pollutant Load at the time of exposure
  • The immature immune system
  • An inability to deal with addictive exposures
  • The lack of awareness of parents and teachers at the time of the child’s exposure
  • A difficulty in hearing the child’s complaints
  • Inadvertently contaminated living quarters
  • Schools contaminated both intentionally and unintentionally, with pollutants over which the child has no control
  • Clothing forcibly contaminated by law or inadvertently contaminated by processing and materials
  • A poor diet, addictive, sugar-rich, and deficient in many vitamins, minerals, and amino acids
  • Social customs that ignore environmental factors (i.e., psychological explanations for physical phenomena)
  • The frequent use of antibiotics, cortizone, and other symptom-suppressing medications often administered in lieu of finding and eliminating the causes of symptoms
  • Children’s immature nervous systems
  • Genetic issues

Some Further background: