Hazardous Materials

Poison control posters

Children are much more vulnerable than adults to exposure to hazardous materials because their bodies are still developing. They eat, drink, and breathe more in proportion to their body size, and their behavior, such as crawling and hand-to-mouth activity, can expose them more to chemicals and infectious diseases.[1] Children often do not have the healthy habits that protect them from getting sick, and many types of infectious germs may be contained in human waste (urine, feces) and body fluids (saliva, nasal discharge, tissue and injury discharges, eye discharges, blood, and vomit).[2]

Poison Exposures

Children younger than 6 years old account for more than half of the 2 million human poison exposures reported to poison centers every year.[3] The most common substances involved in children’s poison exposures are cosmetics and personal care products, cleaning substances, and medications.[4] Exposure to a toxic substance can occur if certain chemicals are inhaled, ingested, or come in contact with skin. (Reach Poison Control by telephone at 1-800-222-1222.)

Common Hazardous Exposures

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas. Young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide because of their smaller bodies. Radon gas, like carbon monoxide, is colorless and odorless. While small amounts of radon occur naturally in the air, most radon exposure occurs inside homes, schools, and workplaces. People who breathe radon over time are at increased risk of lung cancer.[5]

Lead is a neurotoxin. Even at low levels of exposure, lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems. These effects cannot be reversed once the damage is done. While removing lead before exposure is the best way to prevent harmful long-term effects, it is also important that families of children who have been or may have been exposed know they can get blood lead testing and any needed follow-up care, referral, services, and supports.

The following pages have information and resources on best practices for states, providers, and families on hazardous materials.