Why would a child's toxin level be high compared to an adults?

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2023). Why Are Children Often Especially Susceptible to the Adverse Effects of Environmental Toxicants? https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/pediatric-environmental-health/why_children.html

The differing susceptibility of children to harm from environmental exposures results from their body weight, body surface area, and developmental stages—a dynamic process with many physiologic, metabolic, and behavioral aspects. Children are at increased risk because of their increased exposures and increased vulnerability.  

  • Examples of increased exposures include children’s physiologic needs for more food, water, and air per kilogram of body weight compared with adults. These needs result in greater exposure per kilogram to toxicants.
  • Increased exposures also arise from children’s normal development, such as the hand-mouth and hand-object behavior exhibited by toddlers.
  • Increased vulnerability results from children’s rapidly growing and developing organ systems, such as the central nervous system and lung which, compared with adults are especially susceptible to toxic insults.
  • Exposure to the same chemical may cause different health outcome sin children compared with adults due to their vulnerable developmental windows. 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.
  • Many of the effects on children’s health from environmental exposures are unique to their life stage.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2002). Your Child’s Environmental Health How the Body Works: Differences Between Adults and Children. https://www.michigan.gov/-/media/Project/Websites/mdhhs/Folder1/Folder47/ATSDRChildrensHealthhandoutsFS.pdf?rev=e338334bee8e47ec8b2d95ff9d41267d

  • Because children breathe faster than adults, they can be exposed to more air pollution
  • Some toxicants penetrate children’s skin more easily than adults’ skin. Compared with adults, children also have more skin surface area with which to absorb toxicants.
  • Children’s bodies may be less able to break down and remove certain toxic substances compared to adults’ bodies.
  • Children of all ages can be exposed to contamination by industrial chemicals through take-home contamination.  Parents and caregivers can bring contaminants home from work on their clothes, shoes, hair, and skin. 

UC Davis -Environmental Health Center. (2022). Are Environmental Toxins  Haunting Our Kids? https://environmentalhealth.ucdavis.edu/blog/children-environmental-health-month

  • Children breathe, drink, and eat more per kilogram of body weight than adults. This results in greater exposures per kilogram of body weight to any contaminants in the air, water, or food compared with adults. 
  • Anything unsafe that children touch, eat, or breathe may affect them more than adults, because when comparing pound to pound on a weight basis, their contact with these toxins are higher.

Bruckner J. V. (2000). Differences in sensitivity of children and adults to chemical toxicity: the NAS panel report. Regulatory toxicology and pharmacology : RTP31(3), 280–285. https://doi.org/10.1006/rtph.2000.1393

  • The younger and more immature the subject, the more different its response from that of an adult.
  • Substantial anatomical, biochemical, and physiological changes occur during infancy, childhood, and adolescence. These maturational changes can substantially affect the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of chemicals. The net effect of immaturity on pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics is difficult to predict.
  • The committee recognized that maturing organ systems of infants and children may be susceptible to injury by chemicals. There may be developmental periods (i.e., windows of vulnerability) when the endocrine, reproductive, immune, visual, or nervous systems are particularly sensitive to certain chemicals.

Curl, C. L., Fenske, R. A., & Elgethun, K. (2002). Organophosphate pesticide exposure of urban and suburban pre-school children with organic and conventional diets. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(4), 115-120.

  • Studies have shown that children have higher concentrations of pesticides in their bodies compared to adults. For instance, a study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal found that children in agricultural areas had higher levels of organophosphate pesticides in their urine than adults in the same areas. 

Hendryx, M., & Luo, J. (2018). Children's environmental chemical exposures in the USA, NHANES 2003-2012. Environmental science and pollution research international25(6), 5336–5343. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-0874-5

  • Children are vulnerable to environmental chemical exposures.
  • Children exposed to higher levels of one chemical were exposed to higher levels of other chemicals.

Scheuplein, R., Charnley, G., & Dourson, M. (2002). Differential sensitivity of children and adults to chemical toxicity. I. Biological basis. Regulatory toxicology and pharmacology : RTP35(3), 429–447. https://doi.org/10.1006/rtph.2002.1558

  • In many cases children are less sensitive than adults…[however] children of all ages are still developing so even if they are exposed to chemicals at levels below those of adults, they may be at greater risk than adults.


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