Children’s vulnerability to environmental risks

Exposure to environmental risks differs between adults and children. The environment in which fetal and childhood development occurs is critically important, and factors such as infectious diseases and exposure to toxins play a key role in children's health.

Generally speaking, the presence of an environmental hazard (e.g. a pathogen, pollutant or physical hazard) does not necessarily mean that it will do harm. Many factors influence the risk of health effects from exposure to hazards, including the degree of susceptibility or vulnerability. Children are more likely to suffer from adverse reactions and long-term health effects than adults, since they are subject to greater exposure and are more vulnerable to environmental hazards, especially chemicals.

Last but not least, very young children are unaware of risks. They are unable to protect themselves from hazards and their typical behaviour (crawling, playing on the ground, putting their hands and objects in their mouths) facilitates the ingestion, skin contact and absorption of pollutants in dust and dirt.