Let's Protect Our Kids and Our Planet

Pollution_smoke_stack in our environmentBy Deirdre Imus, May 2018
My life’s work, and that of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center, has been devoted to identifying and reducing toxic environmental exposures to protect and improve children’s health. And yet, a report released just last year from the World Health Organization (WHO) implicated unhealthy and polluted environments as causing a quarter of all deaths in children under five years old. The report assigned blame specifically to dirty water and air, secondhand smoke, and a lack of adequate hygiene.

It is easy to lament how hazardous the environment has become to human health, in ways that affect us before we are even born. It is also easy for some people to stick their heads in the sand and deny any of this is happening at all. But it is hard to pinpoint the most egregious contributors to quantify their damage. And it is even harder to figure out how to reverse the damage to the Earth that is making so many of us – young, old, in between – sick.

According to the WHO, the recently published update to its 2004 Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment, fetal exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke and hazardous chemicals can cause low birth weight and congenital abnormalities. In toddlers, household air pollution through hazardous products and pesticides has been linked to diarrhea, respiratory diseases, neuro-developmental problems, and poisonings. In older children and adolescents, the health risks of an impure environment also include malnutrition, vector-borne diseases, social and behavioral problems, and obesity.

This is a lot to take in. Still, it is possible to take small steps in our own lives to reduce the bodily burden of our deeply disturbed environment, specifically for children.  As Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the WHO, pointed out in a statement, a polluted environment is especially deadly to kids because of their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways. We owe it to them to try our best, and protect them at all costs.

Luckily, there are a few distinct steps we can all take to make the environment more hospitable for future generations. None are particularly burdensome on a daily basis, and will reduce your carbon footprint while improving your health.


Every little bit truly counts. Don’t underestimate your ability to make meaningful change. We are already in a crisis moment, but it’s not too late to start climbing out.

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