Childrens Environmental Health

Children are more susceptible to air pollution

Due to developing immune systems, the fact that they eat, drink and breathe more relative to their body size, and their naturally-explorative behaviors, children are more vulnerable to environmental health risks. Everyone, including lawmakers, needs to be aware of the potential impact that human activities have on children’s health and the steps they can take to protect children's environmental health.

Clean Air Council works to protect children’s environmental health by advocating for policies that reduce pollution and protect children from dangerous toxins and known hazards. These programs include limiting the exposure to school bus emissions through anti-idling campaigns and use of clean diesel technologies; promoting smoke-free homes and workplaces; improving indoor air quality; and distributing information on low-cost mitigation strategies for environmental asthma triggers.

Trends in Children's Environmental Health
Drastic increases in the rates of chronic childhood illnesses are sweeping the United States and rest of the world. While the causes of these increases are not fully understood, they ultimately lie in an interaction of genetics and the environment. The rate of change is of such a high level that it would be unreasonable to attribute it to a major shift in human genetics. More likely, genetic predispositions are coming to light due to increased pressure from the environmental factors. The majority of evidence indicates that, now more than ever, the environment is influencing our health and the health of our children.

  • Nearly 5 million children (7%) in the United States suffer from asthma. The rate of prevalence increased by 74% and the number of children dying from asthma increased threefold between 1979 and 1996.
  • Childhood cancer rates have risen dramatically, with cancers of the Central Nervous System increasing by 25%, incidences of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia increasing by 20%, and an average increase in all cancer rates of 10%. Mortality rates have declined thanks to improved detection and treatment methods.
  • More than 1 million children suffer from irreversible neurological damage from lead poisoning, mostly due to exposure to old paint containing lead. The Center for Disease Control has cited lead exposure as the number one environmental hazard facing children's health.
  • Nearly 1 in 28 babies are born with a birth defect, and birth defects continue to be the leading cause of infant mortality.
  • An estimated 12 million children (17%) in the United States suffer from 1 or more learning, developmental, or behavioral disability.
  • The number of children in Special Education programs classified with learning disabilities has increased approximately 190% since 1977.
  • In recent studies conducted in the states of Minnesota and Washington, pesticide residue was found in urine samples of nearly all children tested.
  • Approximately 1 in 4 Americans live within 4 miles of a hazardous waste site. Parental exposure to pollution, the prenatal environment of the developing fetus, and the health of the child after birth have all been linked.
Currently, natural gas is paving the way as an alternative source of cheap energy over coal in the United States. This is especially true in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus Shale is estimated to contain trillions of cubic feet of natural gas reserves that have yet to be tapped. Due to this abundance, Pennsylvania leadership has invited extractive industries to build gas infrastructure that they hope will grow Pennsylvania’s economy. A majority of natural gas is methane. However, a portion of the natural gas in southwestern Pennsylvania contains ethane and other hydrocarbons. This ethane-rich gas is called “wet gas.” This wet gas is preferable to dry gas (gas without ethane and other non-methane hydrocarbons), because ethane can be used to produce plastic products.
In June 2011, Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC (Shell) announced plans to assess the building of a world-scale petrochemical complex, or ethane cracker, in Monaca, PA, within Potter and Center townships located in southwestern Pennsylvania. This facility would take locally-produced ethane from shale gas production and use it as a feedstock to produce polyethylene (plastic) pellets. These pellets would be later processed to manufacture plastic bags, automotive components, and other polyethylene-based products. The proposed facility would produce an average of one and a half million metric tons of ethylene per year. 
Clean Air Council’s 2013-2014 Health Impact Assessment (HIA) serves as a public, written documentation of the process, partners, measures, and outcomes of Shell’s proposal to build a large-scale petrochemical plant in Monaca, Beaver County, Pennsylvania . Shell’s Air Quality Plan Approval Application is subject to change and revision over time. Due to this, the Council could not account for on-going and future revisions in the HIA. The Council referred to Shell’s Air Quality Plan Approval Application from May 2014 to compose the HIA.