Research finds children more susceptible to effects of climate change

Missouri children may be more susceptible to adverse pollution effects, according to a Missouri primary care physician and environmental health expert.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states children are more vulnerable to climate-related hazards due to their bodies being in the development stage. In addition, children are more likely to be outside than adults, thus more likely impacted by climate change.

“Children are the people who will be dealing with the adverse effects of climate change more than any other group living today, because they will outlive the rest of us,” Dr. Elizabeth Friedman added.

Friedman is the director of an environmental health (EH) program at a regional academic institution and a federally funded program that provides EH expertise throughout Region 7. Along with being a primary care physician with expertise in pediatrics, internal medicine and occupational and environmental medicine, she is also the co-founder of the Missouri Clinicians for Climate Action (MOCCA).

“[Children] will have to find ways to survive more extremes that we haven’t had to deal with in the past,” she said.

This may include severe weather patterns, more extreme fire seasons and droughts, worsening pollution, and increased heat. For Missouri, this means heat and flooding patterns. These patterns are due to the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the air. According to the EPA, people have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by 40 percent since the 1700s. Missouri is also heavily reliant on coal, one of the highest producers of pollution in the United States.

“This produces more pollution not just in the air, but also in our soil and waters. When we burn coal, we produce waste (coal ash). We have piles of this waste all over our state – especially outside of our bigger cities like Kansas City and St. Louis.”

A majority of ash is likely to end up in Missouri’s waters, thus impacting the communities around the area. Children drink more water than adults per pound of body weight and are more likely to swallow about twice as much water as adults while swimming, according to the EPA. Friedman says being exposed to chemicals and other pollutants, such as waste in water, while their bodies are developing may negatively impact child development.

“The one positive angle I can think of is that some of us are finally seeing the world as an interconnected ecosystem, where we are not separate from the systems in which we live but are integral parts of it.”

Because children are more susceptible to the impacts of climate change than adults, Friedman shares it is more important than ever to care for Missouri’s land and communities across the state.