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Rules and Regulations that Impact Children's Health

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EPA is committed to considering risks to children in developing standards to protect human health and the environment. This commitment is reflected in:

Development of Rules and Actions

Children have many unique susceptibilities to environmental contaminants. Because of differences in breathing patterns, food and water consumption, activity patterns, and inherent physiological and developmental differences depending on life stage, children may experience greater health effects from environmental risks than adults. Regulatory Actions are one of the major ways that EPA can protect children from environmental health hazards.

Executive Order 13045 requires that each Federal agency: "(a) shall make it a high priority to identify and assess environmental health risks and safety risks that may disproportionately affect children; and (b) shall ensure that its policies, programs, activities, and standards address disproportionate risks to children that result from environmental health risks or safety risks." Under this directive, the EPA considers potential impacts for adverse effects on children in its rulemakings.

In addition, EPA’s Children's Health Policy requires the Agency "to consider the risks to infants and children consistently and explicitly as a part of risk assessments generated during its decision-making process, including the setting of standards to protect public health and the environment."

The Office of Children’s Health Protection’s (OCHP) Regulatory Support and Science Policy Division (RSSPD) works to address the potential for unique exposures, hazards, health effects, and health risks in children during the development of agency regulations and policies. This page provides examples of some of the important regulations EPA has developed that are of particular interest to children’s health. A link for more information is included after each description. Sign up here for OCHP’s monthly newsletter for highlights on ongoing or upcoming rulemaking activities relevant to children’s environmental health.

For learn more about children’s unique susceptibilities to environmental hazards, click here.

For more information on how EPA writes regulations and the EPA regulatory management process, click here.

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Rulemaking Guidance

EPA has developed a regulatory action development guidance entitled Guide to Considering Children's Health When Developing EPA Actions: Implementing Executive Order 13045 and EPA's Policy on Evaluating Health Risks to Children. This Guide is designed to help Agency staff involved in developing regulatory actions determine whether Executive Order 13045 Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks and/or EPA's Policy on Evaluating Health Risks to Children (Children's Health Policy) applies to an Agency action and, if so, how to implement the Executive Order and/or EPA's Policy.

Click here to view EPA’s Guide to Considering Children's Health When Developing EPA Actions.

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Transparency in Regulatory Development

EPA believes its actions will be more cost effective and protective if the development process includes stakeholders working with us to help identify the most practical and effective solutions to environmental problems. EPA encourages you to become involved in its rule and policymaking process.

For more information about EPA's efforts to increase transparency, participation and collaboration in EPA activities, click here.

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Rules and Actions

Air Regulations

Air pollution contributes to a wide variety of adverse health effects. The six most common air pollutants are called “criteria” air pollutants and include carbon monoxide, lead, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.  Exposure to these pollutants has been associated with health effects like coughing and wheezing, aggravation of respiratory illnesses such as asthma, and neurodevelopmental effects (for lead). Children may be particularly susceptible to adverse effects because their lungs and other organ systems are still developing and because they may experience higher exposure due to their activities such as outdoor play.

For more information, click here.

Review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Nitrogen Dioxide
Research has shown that exposures to nitrogen dioxide, a reactive gas common in automobile emissions, are linked with a variety of respiratory effects, including respiratory symptoms in children, particularly those with asthma.  Infants and children may be more susceptible than adults because their lungs are still developing, they have greater prevalence of asthma, they have higher breathing rates per body weight, and participate in higher exposure activities, including outdoor play. 

On April 6, 2018, based on a review of the full body of scientific evidence, EPA issued a decision to retain the current national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for oxides of nitrogen (NOx). The EPA has concluded that the current NOx NAAQS protect the public health, including the at-risk populations of older adults, children and people with asthma, with an adequate margin of safety. The NAAQS for NOx are a 1-hour standard at a level of 100 ppb based on the 3-year average of 98th percentile of the yearly distribution of 1-hour daily maximum concentrations, and an annual standard at a level of 53 ppb.

For more information on NAAQS for Nitrogen Dioxide, click here.

Review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Sulfur Dioxide
Current scientific evidence links short-term exposures to sulfur dioxide (SO2), a reactive gas created from fossil fuel combustion, with an array of adverse respiratory effects including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms.  These effects are particularly important for children and adults with asthma while at elevated ventilation rates (e.g., while exercising or playing).  Studies also show a connection between short-term exposure and increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses, particularly in at-risk life stages such as children. 

On February 25, 2019, based on a review of the full body of currently available scientific evidence, the EPA issued a decision to retain the existing primary NAAQS for SO2. EPA’s decision is based on its judgment that the current SO2 NAAQS protects the public health, with an adequate margin of safety, including the health of at-risk populations with asthma. The existing standard, established in 2010, is 75 parts per billion based on the 3-year average of the 99th percentile of the yearly distribution of 1-hour daily maximum concentrations.

For more information on the NAAQS for sulfur dioxide, click here.

Review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter
Particulate matter (PM) contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Some particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream. Of these, particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to health. Some PM are emitted directly from a source, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires. However, most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles. People with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure.

Click here for more information about particulate matter pollution.

EPA is currently reviewing the NAAQS for particulate matter. Primary standards set limits to protect public health, including the health of "sensitive" populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Secondary standards set limits to protect public welfare, including protection against decreased visibility, damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings. In October 2018, EPA made available an external review draft Integrated Science Assessment (ISA) for the NAAQS for PM , to seek review by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the public. The integrated science assessment (ISA) in conjunction with additional technical and policy assessments provides the scientific basis for EPA decisions in the review This draft document is not final, and it does not represent, and should not be construed to represent, any final Agency policy or views.

For more information on the 2018 external review draft ISA for particulate matter, click here.

More information on the CASAC review, click here.

Endangerment Finding for Lead Emissions from Piston-Engine Aircraft Using Leaded Aviation Gasoline
Although removed from automobile gasoline by 1996, lead is still used in aviation gasoline for piston-engine powered aircraft and currently accounts for approximately half the lead emitted to air in the U.S. annually. EPA is evaluating lead emissions, ambient concentrations and potential exposure to lead from the use of leaded aviation gasoline in piston-engine powered aircraft. Lead harms the nervous systems of infants and children, affecting IQ, learning abilities, and behavioral problems. Lead exposure also impairs normal growth and the harms the immune and other systems. 

To learn more about regulations for lead emissions from aircrafts, click here.

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Water Regulations

Several types of drinking water contaminants may be of concern for children's health. Examples include microorganisms, (e.g., E. coli, norovirus, and Giardia), inorganic chemicals (e.g., lead, arsenic, nitrates, and nitrites), organic chemicals (e.g., atrazine, glyphosate, trichloroethylene, and tetrachloroethylene), and disinfection byproducts (e.g., chloroform). These contaminants and others may be associated with increased risk of a range of diseases in children, including acute diseases such as gastrointestinal illness, developmental effects such as learning disorders, endocrine disruption, and cancer.

For more information click here and here.

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for Lead and Copper: Regulatory Revisions
Lead and copper leach from plumbing materials, so children can be exposed through drinking water. Short-term copper exposure may cause health problems such as gastrointestinal distress, and long-term exposure may lead to liver or kidney damage. Lead harms the nervous systems of infants and children, affecting IQ, learning abilities, and behavioral problems. Lead exposure also impairs normal growth and harms the immune and other systems. Drinking water contaminated with lead and copper is particularly concerning for children because they absorb lead and copper in the digestive tract at higher rates than adults and consume more water than adults, especially infants whose formula is made with tap water. 

For more information on the Lead and Copper Rule, click here.

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Regulation of Perchlorate
EPA has initiated the process to develop a national primary drinking water regulation (NPDWR) for perchlorate. An NPDWR will establish a legal limit on the level of perchlorate in drinking water to reflect both the level that protects human health and the level that water systems can achieve using the best available technology. The National Academy of Sciences identified "the fetuses of pregnant women who might have hypothyroidism or iodide deficiency" as "most sensitive" but also identified infants and developing children as additional “sensitive” lifestages. Infants and young children have greater exposure to contaminants in food and water because they consume more food and water as a proportion of body weight, especially infants whose formula is made with tap water. These lifestages may be the most vulnerable because of relative exposure. EPA has collaborated with Food and Drug Administration scientists to develop a Biologically Based Dose Response (BBDR) model that can integrate available health related information to assess the effects of perchlorate on thyroid hormone production. Since, the Agency conducted two independent, expert peer reviews to determine the appropriate scientific approach for understanding the adverse health impacts of perchlorate in drinking water.

For more information on Perchlorate in drinking water, click here.

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Group Regulations of Carcinogenic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Early-life exposure to carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may increase the risk of developing cancer later in life. Carcinogenic VOCs in drinking water are a particular concern for children because they consume more water than adults per unit body weight, especially infants whose formula is reconstituted with tap water. Exposures to certain carcinogenic VOCs may also lead to other adverse noncancer health effects such as reproductive and developmental effects. In addition, the 2005 Cancer Guidelines require consideration related to increased risks from mutagenic carcinogens due to early childhood exposure.  To learn more Chemical Contaminant Rules, click here.

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Chemical Safety Regulations

Lead in household dust results from indoor sources such as old lead paint on surfaces that are frequently in motion or bump or rub together (such as window frames), deteriorating old lead paint on any surface, home repair activities, tracking lead contaminated soil from the outdoors into the indoor environment, or even from lead dust on clothing worn at a job site. Lead harms the nervous systems of infants and children, affecting IQ, learning abilities, and behavioral problems. Lead exposure also impairs normal growth and harms the immune and other systems.

For more information on lead, click here.

Lead; Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program for Public and Commercial Buildings
Common renovation activities on public and commercial buildings may deposit lead dust and paint chips on interior surfaces and nearby properties, such as housing and day care centers. This may expose children both inside and outside of such facilities to lead-based paint dust. Children may also accidentally ingest lead dust and paint chips through common hand-to-mouth behavior. EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule, aims to protect the public from lead-based paint hazards associated with renovation, repair and painting activities. The rule requires workers to be certified and trained in the use of lead-safe work practices, and requires renovation, repair, and painting firms to be EPA-certified. In February 2016, EPA finalized revisions to the Lead-based Paint program to reduce burden and costs to industry and clarify language for training providers.

To learn more about Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program Rules, click here.

Lead Wheel Weights; Regulatory Investigation
Lead wheel weights are sometimes lost in the environment where children can be exposed. 

For more information on petition requests to establish regulations prohibiting the manufacture, processing, and distribution in commerce of lead wheel balancing weights, click here.

Lead; Residential Lead Dust Hazard Standards (TSCA Sec 403)
Many products found in and around our homes used lead for years, and some still do. Older homes may have lead-based paint, which creates lead paint chips and dust. Infants and children may put their hands and other objects that have lead dust on them into their mouths, increasing their exposure. Children’s growing bodies also absorb more lead than adult bodies do, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

On June 22, 2018, EPA released a proposed rulemaking to lower the dust-lead hazard standards from 40 µg/ft2 and 250 µg/ft2 to 10 µg/ft2 and 100 µg/ft2 on floors and window sills, respectively. These standards apply to most pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities, such as day care centers and kindergarten facilities. Reducing childhood lead exposure is an EPA priority. While no safe level of lead in blood has been identified, the reductions in children’s blood-lead levels resulting from this proposed rule are expected to reduce the risk of adverse cognitive and developmental effects in children.

For more information on dust-lead hazard standards, click here.

While pesticides have benefits for society and can be powerful tools for controlling pests, they are also inherently toxic and can severely harm children's health if stored or used improperly. Pesticide poisoning is especially harmful to children since their brain and nervous systems are at early critical stages of development. Because their bodies are still growing, children have fewer natural defenses and can develop serious health effects if overexposed to pesticides. Click here for more information on pesticides.

Registration Review for Chlorpyrifos
Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate (OP) pesticide with registered uses primarily on food and feed crops. Several of the limited non-agricultural and non-residential uses are for golf course turf, wood products, greenhouse and nursery production, and adult mosquitocide. In 2000, all residential uses of chlorpyrifos were cancelled except for ant and roach bait station products in child resistant packaging. Chlorpyrifos is currently undergoing registration review, which is EPA’s process pursuant to Section 3(g) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Each registered pesticide is reviewed every 15 years to determine whether it continues to meet the FIFRA standard for registration. There is evidence that exposure to OP pesticides can affect the developing nervous system. Prenatal exposure in pregnant women and early postnatal exposure are particularly concerning because they are vulnerable periods for the developing nervous system. Behavioral patterns of young children, such as playing on the floor and putting objects in their mouths, also increase the chance of dermal or oral exposure. Currently, chlorpyrifos remains registered as it undergoes registration review.

For more information on Chlorpyrifos and related EPA actions and regulatory history, click here.

TSCA Section 6(a) Rulemaking on Paint Removers Methylene Chloride and N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP)
EPA initiated a rulemaking under Section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to address the risks identified in the risk assessments of methylene chloride and NMP when used in commercial and consumer paint removers. EPA has issued a final rule to prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing, and distribution of methylene chloride in all paint removers for consumer use. An initial review of NMP identified risks to pregnant women and women of childbearing age who have high exposure to NMP through paint or other coating removal, with possible effects of low birth weight and other developmental effects. 

To learn about what EPA has done to manage risks in NMP or view the problem formulation for NMP risk evaluation under amended TSCA, click here.  

Trichloroethylene TSCA Section 6(a)
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is a clear, colorless liquid that has a sweet odor and evaporates quickly. TCE is a toxic chemical with human health concerns. TCE is used as a solvent, as an intermediate for refrigerant manufacture and as a spotting agent in dry cleaning facilities. Exposure to TCE raises a number of health effects concerns, including for effects in the developing fetus from both acute and chronic exposure. TCE is carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure. Single (acute) or short-term exposure can potentially affect the developing fetus. EPA is proposing bans for the use of TCE in commercial vapor degreasing and certain uses as an aerosol degreasor and for spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities. In November of 2016, EPA announced the inclusion of TCE on the list of the first 10 chemicals to be evaluated for risk under amended TSCA. That action will allow EPA to evaluate the other remaining uses of the chemical.

For more information on Risk Management for TCE, click here.

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