Skip to content

    Environmental Illness in Children

    Font Size

    Topic Overview

    Children are more likely than adults to get an environmental illness, because they are still developing. Also, some ways that children behave, such as crawling and putting things in their mouths, can expose them to dangerous substances. Children in urban areas are most affected by environmental illnesses. The prevalence and number of deaths from asthma is highest among poor urban children. Because of their exposure to pollutants, allergens, cigarette smoke, pesticides, lead, and toxins in our environment, research shows that children may be increasingly affected by:

    • Asthma. In the past 15 years, the number of children with asthma has more than doubled. Now, more than 7 million children younger than 18 have this disease.1 Each year asthma accounts for about 14 million missed school days.2
    • Childhood cancer. From 1975 to 1990, the number of children with cancer increased, but the childhood cancer rate has stayed the same since 1990. Leukemias and central nervous system tumors are the most common types of cancer in children.2
    • Developmental disorders. Some developmental disabilities in children can be caused by infections or exposure to toxic chemicals before or after birth.

    Some environmental factors affecting children's health include:

    • Air pollution. Air pollutants found indoors and outdoors may harm the lungs of children and lead to breathing problems, such as asthma. Some substances that might cause problems include pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ozone.2
    • Lead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 out of 20 children in the United States has elevated levels of lead in his or her blood, which can cause developmental problems. The most common sources of lead are lead-based paint, dust, toy jewelry, and some imported toys. In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found high lead content in many children's toys and jewelry made in other countries. For a complete list of recalled products, see the CPSC website at
    • Pesticides. There are more than 1,055 substances used as pesticides in the U.S.3 Children can get exposed to pesticides in food, from products used in the house or on yards or parks, and in water. Problems that can be caused by pesticide exposure include skin rashes, nerve damage, and cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have as little exposure to pesticides as possible.4
    1 | 2

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
    Next Article:

    Environmental Illness in Children Topics

    Hot Topics

    WebMD Video: Now Playing

    Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

    Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

    disciplining a boy
    Types, symptoms, causes.
    fruit drinks
    Eat these to think better.
    embarrassed woman
    Do you feel guilty after eating?
    diabetes supply kit
    Pack and prepare.
    Balding man in mirror
    Treatments & solutions.
    birth control pills
    Which kind is right for you?
    Remember your finger
    Are you getting more forgetful?
    sticky notes on face
    10 tips to clear your brain fog.
    Close up of eye
    12 reasons you're distracted.
    Trainer demonstrating exercise for RA
    Exercises for your joints.
    apple slices with peanut butter
    What goes best with workouts?
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    Myths and facts.

    Women's Health Newsletter

    Find out what women really need.