President Donald Trump’s proposed 31 percent budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is devastating for anyone who isn’t financially connected to the fossil fuel industry. Reversing the course on projects that include reducing carbon emissions, protecting rivers and streams from industrial pollutants, and investments in renewable energy is not only bad for the planet, but it is a disaster for human health. And those most at risk of a potentially more toxic environment are children.
There are several reasons why children are more susceptible to pollution than adults, with the most obvious being that they spend more time outdoors and are more likely to come in direct contact with dirt, water, and plant life.
But the real danger to children lies in their biology.
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As the Center for Disease Control explains, children require more food, oxygen, and water than adults in comparison to their body size. This means that a contaminant in any one of those areas will have a greater presence in the body of a child compared to the body of a full grown adult.
The CDC also says that some organ systems within the body do not fully mature until a child is in their teens, and a developing system is far more susceptible to pollutants than an established organ system, as different pollutants can delay or alter development.
The CDC lays out how different types of environmental contaminants effect children differently than adults:
Exposure to the same chemical may cause different health outcomes in children compared with adults. A well-known example is the effect of lead on young children’s developing nervous systems. Lead does have effects on the nervous systems of adult workers, which result in peripheral neuropathies. For children, however, intellectual development is exquisitely sensitive to even small amounts of lead; this sensitivity is not seen in adults.
The last few decades have seen a reduction in the amount of environmentally induced illnesses in children as a result of stronger federal safeguards to reduce pollution and exposure to harmful chemicals. As CNN notes:
The Children’s Health Study, one of the largest and most extensive studies of air pollution’s long-term effects, found that living in areas with higher pollution levels caused measurable damage to children’s lungs including respiratory infections, higher risk for asthma and reduced lung growth and function.
But it also found that children’s lungs have improved over the past two decades as pollution levels in the study area have decreased. The ongoing study, conducted by the University of Southern California, has involved more than 11,000 area schoolchildren since 1992. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, enforced and regulated by the EPA, has helped cut ground-level ozone — a component of smog — by more than 32 percent nationwide since 1980, according to the agency’s air trends data.
These advances in child health could be undone if Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the EPA become reality.
However, it is important to also understand that the proposals do not necessarily do away with environmental protections (with the exception of gutting the Clean Power Plan). Instead, the budget and staffing cuts at the agency will prevent the EPA from effectively monitoring health and safety issues and governing corporate compliance with existing laws.
To put it bluntly, most of the safeguards will still be in place, we just won’t have anyone looking over the shoulders of a corporation to make sure they are obeying the law.
The US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have pointed out that the majority of studies on the effects of things like air pollution and other forms of toxic exposure have focused only on adult populations or the effects on developing fetuses, leaving the area of childhood and adolescence inadequately studied to determine the full effects that pollution has on this population.
Unfortunately, the health-related costs (both in terms of money and life) are often omitted from discussions of environmental safety regulations. Instead, the conversations tend to focus solely on the compliance costs that businesses face.
This is why the conversation has to change.
The health-related costs of addressing pollution and climate change far outweigh the economic costs that businesses face, and a far greater number of people will be affected if these budget cuts become a reality. Public health is more important than corporate profits, and the collective health of the public will always suffer when the environment isn’t properly protected.