Experts worry that asbestos exposure may be especially harmful in childhoodThough most news stories focus on asbestos exposure in adults, one group of scientists and public health experts has decided to examine the effects of fiber inhalation in childhood. The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC) recently held a meeting to discuss pediatric vulnerability to asbestos.
Their findings, based on analysis of dozens of prior studies, were that young or developing lungs and tissue may be extra sensitive to the effects of asbestos exposure.
Children have different bodies and behaviors
The COC is an independent advisory committee in the UK that advises the federal government on the carcinogenic nature of a wide range of substances and products. Its members come from universities, research groups and even industry labs.
For their latest meeting, held on July 12, the committee reviewed the available literature on childhood asbestos exposure, pediatric response to carcinogens and the physiological differences between children and adults.
The group found that, in several ways, youth - defined roughly as anyone under age 20, but focusing on those in their first few years of life - are particularly vulnerable to fiber inhalation.
First, COC members noted that, in prior studies, researchers have found children may have an increased uptake of asbestos fibers, compared to adults. Why? Because children have a faster breathing rate and inhale more air per square inch of respiratory tissue.
The group added that, based on tests performed on laboratory mice, developing lung tissue and immune systems seem to react especially negatively to asbestos exposure. However, they noted that very few studies address the differences between juvenile and adult exposure to asbestos.
Finally, young children may be in particular danger when in proximity to the fiber, since they may be inclined to touch, ingest or inhale asbestos, having no inclination of its dangers.
Studies are scarce but illuminating
Very few investigations have looked into the effects of asbestos exposure among children, but those that have report chilling results.
Consider two studies of pediatric paraoccupational asbestos exposure - that is, childhood inhalation of fibers brought home on family members' clothing.
One report, appearing in the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, noted an increased rate of asbestosis among the kin of asbestos factory workers. The other, an infamous study published in the American Journal of Public Health, discovered that, among shipyard workers' children, 2 percent of daughters and 8 percent of sons had asbestosis.
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