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Science and Health:
Kids and Chemicals
More on This Story:
Facts and Laws

NOW's presentation Kids and Chemicals refers to many potential chemical hazards and ways to protect children from risk. Below are some useful definitions and information on the laws designed to guard you, your kids, and the environment.

Sometimes referred to as the "Big Three," radon, asbestos, and lead, are widespread in your environment.

  • Radon: Radon in an invisible gas produced by the natural radioactive decay or uranium in the earth. High levels can cause health problems. As it is a gas, it migrates from the ground into basements through cracks in the foundation. High levels are found in the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania to New York and into New England (and other areas). You can find out about testing your home for radon from the Environmental Protection Agency. Be sure to get a certified inspector (the EPA local offices maintain lists.)

  • Asbestos: All asbestos is dangerous! Six different types of fibrous minerals are classified as "asbestos" when they are used as fire-retardants. Asbestos was used in building from the 1920s through the 1970s. BE AWARE, that the 1984 Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) mandates that schools systematically inspect every room and surface for asbestos every three years. Inspections must be conducted by qualified professionals and parents and teachers must be informed of the inspections.

  • Lead: Research conducted by Dr. Herbert Needleman, M.D., featured in KIDS AND CHEMICALS, has shown that high lead levels affect intelligence. Now many local and national authorities must track levels of lead in water. You can also have the paint in your home (a common source of lead) tested, and a simple needle stick can test your child's blood lead level. Many states license lead abatement professionals. Check with your local EPA office.

    Asthma is another common childhood threat exacerbated by environmental conditions. Many states have special programs to help families deal with childhood asthma — please check our local resource map. Local weather stations, and your local EPA office monitor air quality and can help you minimize bad days for your child. Here are some common causes that are easy to combat. Common pollens:

    • Weeds: English plantain, lamb's quarters, ragweed, redroot pigweed, sagebrush, tumbleweed
    • Grasses: Bermudagrass, Johnsongrass, Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, retrop, sweet vernal, timothy
    • Trees: Ash, box elder, elm, hickory, mountain cedar, oak, pecan

    References: There are many laws and organizations designed to help keep you and your kids safe. Keep an eye on your home and work environments at these web sites:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration is responsible for making your work environment safe. You can find on their web site a list of precautions required by your industry as well as a complete database of American businesses cited for OSHA violations.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency — Be sure to note that under the Superfund Reauthorization Act, the EPA and local governments must maintain registries of industrial chemical releases.
  • monitors air and water quality and other environmental hazards zipcode by zipcode.
  • Use our local environment and health resources map

    Some of this material was excerpted from RAISING HEALTHY CHILDREN IN A TOXIC WORLD: 101 SMART SOLUTIONS FOR EVERY FAMILY by Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., Herbert L. Needleman, M.D., and Mary Landrigan, M.P.A. For more information and to obtain a copy of the book please visit

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