October 17, 2007 | By: Carol Lea Spence

October is Children’s Environmental Health Month, and it’s a good time to assess environmental dangers in the home.

Children are small and not fully developed, so it doesn’t take much to wreak havoc on their systems. Ashley Osborne, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension associate for environmental and natural resource issues, said that’s one of the reasons for the focus on young ones.

“Young children are not able to process contaminants as well as adults,” she said. “Also, children take in more air, water and food per pound of body weight than an average adult. So that means they take in larger doses of harmful substances. That’s why it’s a good idea to follow some safety tips.”

Osborne said keeping your home free of dust and mold helps children breathe easier. Secondhand cigarette smoke can also impair a child’s breathing, so she advises restricting smoking in the home and the car.

Invisible, tasteless, odorless lead is a pervasive problem in many homes. Houses built before 1978 might contain lead paint. Pipes and plumbing fixtures bought before 1998 might also contain lead. Lead can be found on toys, in dust or soil. Long-term exposure to the substance can, among other things, limit a child’s IQ, damage hearing and slow growth. A certified lead inspector can check your home for evidence of the element, and specially trained contractors can remove it from the premises. However, Osborne said there are inexpensive things parents can do to reduce their children’s exposure.

“You can do some simple things to make sure that you prevent your child from getting lead poisoning, such as washing their hands before they eat,” Osborne said. “That way, if there’s been any paint that’s chipped off (from walls or toys) and created some dust, it will wash all that lead off their hands.”

She also recommended washing toys and pacifiers frequently since “everything goes into a child’s mouth.” Keeping those items clean and free of any type of lead dust or other types of environmental pollutants reduces a child’s exposure.

Adair County Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent Kelli Bonifer took part in the Community Baby Shower in Columbia, an annual event that targets expectant mothers and mothers of infants up to six months old. Bonifer’s presentation educated the women on the dangers of common household look-alikes, poisons that resemble other products. 

“Honey and motor oil look alike, as well as apple juice and Pine Sol,” she said. “Glass cleaner and mouthwash look alike, as well as the little Kool-Aids the little kids drink. The color can confuse them. Mountain Dew and antifreeze, those look alike.”

Other look-alikes are the containers for Comet cleansing powder and parmesan cheese. Vegetable sprays and bug sprays could be mistaken for each other. A chocolate bar is very similar in appearance to certain types of laxative. 

Bonifer urged mothers to keep medicines and chemicals such as cleaning and automotive supplies locked up.

“Don’t store food with chemicals. And never call medicine ‘candy,’” she said. 
She also recommended keeping all medicines out of reach and in their original containers. Never store chemicals or medicines in food containers. 

In case of a poisoning emergency, the Kentucky Regional Poison Center has a toll-free hotline, 1-800-222-1222.

Not only are environmental hazards dangerous for children in the short term, but many of these substances can have long-term effects or lie unnoticed in their bodies until they cause disease decades later.

“Your attention to protecting your children from environmental hazards when they are young will protect them throughout their entire lives,” Osborne said.

For more information about other environmental health risks and methods for avoiding them, visit http://www.ca.uky.ed/enri/CEH.


Ashley Osborne, 859-257-2505, Kelli Bonifer, 270-384-2317