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Children should not be included as volunteer workers to assist in clean up and restoration of disaster areas

posted May 1, 2011, 8:49 PM by Nancy Swan   [ updated May 31, 2011, 8:11 PM ]
Children should not be included as volunteer workers to assist in clean up and restoration of disaster areas.  Unfortunately, lessons learned by U.S. and the world's government and community leaders about the potential for environmental and chemical exposure and injury to children are not shared with those who need it the most, the parents, schools, and child care providers.  Children's EPA hopes to fulfill that need by gathering and supplying information through news alerts and Community Forums to help prevent childhood environmental and chemical exposure and injuries and to promote healthy homes, schools, and play areas for children.

One lesson not learned by the U. S. government is that children under the age of 18 should be prohibited from participation in clean-up, restoration, and rebuilding.  In the aftermath of  9/11,  Hurricane Katrina, and during and after the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill, well-meaning religious and civic groups encouraged youth groups and allowed children of families to volunteer to help in the clean up and restoration.  Months and sometimes years later, clean up and restoration adult volunteer workers reported injuries and illness from exposure to environmental and chemical hazards that caused cancer, lung and respiratory problems, and other serious diseases. 

Tragically,  in the wake of the April 2011 tornado in Alabama and the tornado in Joplin MO., the worst natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina, neither state nor federal government officials and health agencies have issued warnings to parents and child care workers for the potential for harm from environmental and chemical hazards present in disaster areas.  With the exception of WPMI Local 15 News at Noon account by Nancy Swan, there has been no information from the media, nor government or health agencies that volunteers in the tornado disaster area should not include children.  

The US EPA has recognized that children are more vulnerable to injury from hazardous substances and poor environmental conditions because children breathe more air, eat more food, and touch more contaminated surfaces than adults. A child's body and organs are still developing and can be more easily damaged by exposure from hazardous materials. 
  • No agency in the United States regulates, monitors, nor investigates hazardous environmental and chemical exposures in schools. 
  • No agency nor individual, including the President, is authorized to declare a disaster zone as "safe" for children or families.  Non the less, media reported President Obama allowed the First Family to dip into the Gulf of Mexico.  The President declared the waters and beaches of the Gulf as safe for families.  
  • What is considered "safe" or "acceptable levels" by U. S. government and health agencies is based upon the height and weight of a grown male.  Hazardous environmental and chemical exposure, as with medicine dosage, considered safe for an adult can be deadly to an infant.  
Children breathe even more air per pound of body weight and are more susceptible to air pollution. Many air pollutants, such as those that form urban smog and toxic compounds, remain in the environment for long periods of time and are carried by the winds hundreds of miles from their origin. Millions of people live in areas where urban smog, very small particles, and toxic pollutants pose serious health concerns. People exposed to high enough levels of certain air pollutants may experience burning in their eyes, an irritated throat, or breathing difficulties. Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause cancer and long-term damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems. In extreme cases, it can even cause death. US EPA
  • Because a child's organs and body are still developing, children who are subjected to toxins can suffer serious diseases later in life, including cancer, asthma and lung problems, neurological and immune diseases and disorders, reproductive problems, and other developmental and learning disorders. US EPA 
  • Children's behavior, including play, learning, and eating, can expose them to more chemicals than adults, in the air they breathe, the food and materials they ingest, and the objects they touch. 
Shortly before the tornado disaster, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee governors proclaimed their commitment to protecting children from environmental and chemical hazards, yet, none of these governors  have provided warnings to their constituents regarding the potential for harm to children, especially those allowed into the tornado affected areas. Disaster areas such as the recent tornado wreckage, the BP Oil Crisis, and in the aftermath of Katrina demonstrate that disaster areas are bathed in chemical and environmental toxins. 

When entire areas are ravaged and flattened, hazardous and regulated toxic chemicals are spread over a large area.  Buildings damaged include factories and businesses that use and store paints and solvents, asbestos, industrial pesticides, lead, and many are  deadly and cancer causing, including air- borne chemicals and reactive agents.  After Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, disaster areas were referred to as "toxic soups."  Non the less, religious and civic youth volunteer groups were sent into these areas to assist. Even if children are not touching substances, they are interacting with clean up workers and breathing the air. 

Government and health officials know that chemical and environmental threats to child health from contaminants exists in disaster areas.  Yet, Parents and decision makers are are left unaware that they are sacrificing their child'shealth in exchange for a few days of civic assistance.  Few physicians are prepared to diagnose toxic injuries.

tags: Tornado disaster relief, Alabama, natural disasters, health, EPA, government, politics, economy, US EPA, chemicals, environment, parenting, volunteers, youth groups, clean-up, BP OilSpill, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11