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Children at Risk: How Air Pollution from Power Plants Threatens the Health of America’s Children

May 1, 2002

Whether at home, school, or play, children are exposed to emissions from power plants. This report reviews important recent advances in our understanding of the link between air pollution and children’s health. A number of harmful pollutants are emitted by power plants. Thus, cleaning up power plants will have a great impact on the quality of children’s health in America. This report can serve as an educational tool and an aide to healthcare providers, politicians and citizens who want to take action to protect children’s health using the best science available. Cleaner air means healthier kids today and healthier adults tomorrow.

As this report shows, children are the most susceptible members of our society to the detrimental effects posed by air pollutants emitted from power plants. While countless studies have looked at the effects of various air pollutants on human health, few have focused specifically on children. However, children represent our future and to protect children is to protect all people of all ages. Children remain particularly susceptible to pollution because their defense mechanisms have not yet fully developed, increasing their susceptibility to the harmful effects of pollution. Children also breathe more rapidly and have more lung surface area for their body size compared to adults, which means they take in more air per minute and inhale more air for their size. In fact, pound-for-pound, children breathe 50 percent more air than do adults, and as a result, our children inhale a greater percentage of pollution. Children also spend more time outdoors thus increasing their exposure to outdoor air pollutants. Because exercise increases the penetration of pollutants into the lungs, our children’s outdoor activities make adverse health effects more likely. This is of particular concern because tens of thousands of schools are located near the most polluting, outdated power plants.

Power plant emissions and their byproducts form particulate matter, ozone smog and air toxics. These pollutants are associated with respiratory hospitalizations, lost school days due to asthma attacks, low birth weight, stunted lung growth and tragically, even infant death. Air pollution is a pervasive problem across America for urban, suburban, and rural communities. It is an inescapable fact that air pollution is everywhere – indoors and out – and kids breathe and absorb more of it than adults do.