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What You Can Do to Protect Children from Environmental Risks

Listed below are tips to help protect children from environmental risks.
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Keep pesticides and other toxic chemicals away from children

  • Store food and trash in closed containers to keep pests from coming into your home.
  • Use baits and traps when you can; place baits and traps where kids can't get them.
  • Read product labels and follow directions.
  • Store pesticides and toxic chemicals where kids can't reach them - never put them in other containers that kids can mistake for food or drink.
  • Keep children, toys, and pets away when pesticides are applied; don't let them play in fields, orchards, and gardens after pesticides have been used for at least the time recommended on the pesticide label.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water before eating - peel them before eating, when possible.

Protect children from chemical poisoning

If a child has swallowed or inhaled a toxic product such as a household cleaner or pesticide, or gotten it in their eye or on their skin

  • Call 911 if the child is unconscious, having trouble breathing, or having convulsions.
  • Check the label for directions on how to give first aid.
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for help with first aid information.

Help children breathe easier

  • Don't smoke and don't let others smoke in your home or car.
  • Keep your home as clean as possible. Dust, mold, certain household pests, secondhand smoke, and pet dander can trigger asthma attacks and allergies.
  • Limit outdoor activity on ozone alert days when air pollution is especially harmful.
  • Walk, use bicycles, join or form carpools, and take public transportation.
  • Limit motor vehicle idling.
  • Avoid open burning.
  • Limit outdoor activity on poor air quality days.
  • Check your air quality at AirNow

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Protect children from lead poisoning

  • Get kids tested for lead by their doctor or health care provider.
  • Test your home for lead paint hazards if it was built before 1978.
  • Wash children's hands before they eat; wash bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
  • Wash floors and window sills to protect kids from dust and peeling paint contaminated with lead - especially in older homes.
  • Run cold water until it becomes as cold as it can get. Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula.

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Protect children from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning

  • Have fuel-burning appliances, furnace flues, and chimneys checked once a year.
  • Never use gas ovens or burners for heat; never use barbecues or grills indoors or in the garage.
  • Never sleep in rooms with unvented gas or kerosene space heaters.
  • Don't run cars or lawnmowers in the garage.
  • Install in sleeping areas a CO alarm that meets UL, IAS, or Canadian standards.
  • Read about CO's impact on indoor air quality.

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Protect children from contaminated fish and polluted water

  • Be alert for local fish advisories and beach closings. Contact your local health department.
  • Take used motor oil to a recycling center; properly dispose of toxic household chemicals.
  • Learn what's in your drinking water - call your local public water supplier for annual drinking water quality reports; for private drinking water wells, have them tested annually by a certified laboratory. Call 1-800-426-4791 for help.

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Safeguard children from high levels of radon

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Protect children from too much sun

  • Wear hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15+ on kids over six months; keep infants out of direct sunlight.
  • Limit time in the mid-day sun - the sun is most intense between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Read more about sun safety.

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Keep children and mercury apart

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Promote healthier communities

  • Spearhead a clean school bus campaign in your community. Clean School Bus USA emphasizes three ways to reduce public school bus emissions:
    1. Anti-idling strategies: Unnecessary idling pollutes the air, wastes fuel, and causes excess engine wear. It also wastes money and results in the wear and tear of the vehicle's engine.
    2. Engine retrofit and clean fuels: Retrofitted engines run cleaner because they have been fitted with devices designed to reduce pollution and/or use cleaner fuel.
    3. Bus replacement: Older buses are not equipped with today's pollution control or safety features. Pre-1990 buses have been estimated to emit as much as six times more pollution as new buses that were built starting in 2004 and as much as 60 times more pollution as buses that meet the 2007 standards.
  • Develop safe routes so that children can walk to and from school, limiting vehicle use and increasing physical activity. Conduct walkability audits in your community to understand where you can and cannot walk. Children can help for a fun and educational activity. Learn more by visiting Walk and Bike to SchoolExitor Safe Routes to School.
  • Promote green building. Green building considerations include:
    • Careful site selection to minimize impacts on the surrounding environment and increase alternative transportation options.
    • Energy and water conservation to help ensure efficient use of natural resources and lower utility bills.
    • Responsible stormwater management to help limit disruption of natural watershed functions and reduce the environmental impacts of stormwater runoff.
    • Improved indoor air quality through the use of low volatile organic compound products and careful ventilation practices during construction and renovation.
  • Use Indoor Air Quality Design Tools to create healthy school environments. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a critically important aspect of creating and maintaining school facilities. IAQ Design Tools for Schools provides detailed guidance and links to other resources to help design new schools and repair, renovate and maintain existing facilities. IAQ Design Tools for Schools is Web-based guidance to assist school districts, architects, and facility planners design and construct the next generation of schools.
  • Support local smart growth activities. Smart growth is development that serves the economy, the community, and the environment. EPA helps states and communities realize the economic, community, and environmental benefits of smart growth by: Learn more about smart growth.
    • Providing information, model programs, and analytical tools to inform communities about growth and development.
    • Working to remove federal barriers that may hinder smarter community growth.
    • Creating new resources and incentives for states and communities pursuing smart growth.
  • Protect children's environmental health. Children may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults because:
    • Their bodily systems are still developing
    • They eat more, drink more, and breathe more in proportion to their body size
    • Their behavior can expose them more to chemicals and organisms
  • For questions about children's health and environmental conditions, visit
  • Contact your local health department and ask about cooling centers, disaster preparedness, and other issues of concern to you.
  • Sign up for weather, air quality, water quality and pollen count alert systems through your local government.
  • Plant trees, walk instead of driving, teach your children to ride bikes, support neighborhood gardens, recycle paper, compost kitchen waste, and conserve water -- taking simple steps to improve the environment really does help!

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Storms and floods

  • Have a battery powered weather radio and a basic emergency supply kit.
  • Make an evacuation and communication plan in place for the family during floods and storms.
  • If children are exposed to flood waters, watch for diarrhea.
  • Check for local drinking water advisories.
  • Drink bottled water or boil tap water to disinfect it.
  • Check local advisories about recreational activities, such as beach closures.
  • After a major storm, check your child's mental health, school performance, sleeping and eating patterns for signs of change and seek treatment if needed.
  • Read about preparing for natural disasters.

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Too much heat

  • If you are pregnant try to stay cool, stretch your legs and sip water more often than usual to prevent dehydration.
  • Infants and young children overheat quickly and are less able to adapt to extreme heat.  Offer sips of water often.
  • Dress infants and children is loose, lightweight, light color clothing.
  • Children may not ask for water and may not be aware that they need to cool down.
  • Never leave infants in a parked car.
  • Help children find places to cool off when they are overheated.
  • Ensure that children drink plenty of water before and after athletic events.
  • Monitor children, and even teenagers, for signs of heat-related illness, provide water, and have a plan to combat heat illness.
  • Communities can work together to create cooling centers for children, to issue heat warnings and alerts, and to air condition schools.
  • Seek medical care right away if your child has signs of heat-related illness.

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Avoiding ticks

  • Keep the ticks away from your child to prevent Lyme disease (CDC).
  • Have children wear protective clothing, such as socks, shoes and long pants if possible.
  • Reduce tick habitats by keeping grass short and removing brush from play areas.
  • Parents should apply insect repellent rated for ticks on children.  Always follow label instructions and avoid applying on hands or near eyes and mouth.
  • Check children for ticks after they have been outdoors, especially in wooded areas and meadows and especially from April to October.
  • Teach children how to check themselves for ticks, and what to do if they find one.
  • Have children bathe or shower after playing in woods or grassy fields.
  • Remove ticks promptly (CDC).
  • Call you child's health professional if you suspect Lyme disease -- some early signs can include a red expanding "bulls-eye" rash around the spot a tick attached, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes (particularly of note when other children or members of the family aren't sick).

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Stopping mosquito bites

  • Use insect repellents when your children play outdoors.  Always follow the label directions.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants from dusk through dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors.  If you can, use your air conditioning.
  • Help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by emptying standing water from containers, flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet dishes, tires, and birdbaths.
  • Read more about preventing mosquito bites (CDC).

Order Tips from the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP)

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