One might think that when it comes to toxins and children, our government would take a precautionary approach, responding to early signs of harm. The European Union operates using a precautionary framework. But, we, in the United States do not.

We operate under a “prove harm” approach, in which science must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt a cause-and-effect relationship between a chemical and harm to necessitate regulatory action. Meanwhile, the health of our children rests in the balance.

Crazy, right?

Children absorb more toxins relative to body weight than adults, and their developing brains, organs, nervous systems and immune systems may be more vulnerable to toxins. Studies increasingly show how toxic chemicals harm the body even at low doses, as in parts per trillion, and the more often a child is exposed to chemicals, the greater the chance of harm. Government regulations and manufacturers of synthetic chemicals, however, determine exposure-threshold levels based on a healthy adult male who weighs 160 pounds.

As rates of childhood cancer, asthma, neurological disorders, endocrine and hormonal disorders and birth defects increase, environmental-justice advocates recognize there is no better time than now to protect our children’s health.

Adults have an obligation to protect children from toxins. The U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act lists about 75,000 chemicals currently in use. Our country produces or imports 42 billion pounds of chemicals daily and global production is expected to double every 25 years. Not all toxic chemicals are obvious, though, as many are odorless and colorless, making our ability to protect children even more challenging.

Children spend nearly one-third of their lives at school-what should be a safe space for learning and growing. However, with the best intentions, many school districts use large amounts of chemicals with serious health concerns, instead of opting for lower-risk alternative methods. Pesticides regularly applied on school grounds and in classrooms off-gas into the air kids breathe and seep into the grass where they play. Ingredients in some pesticides have been linked to cancer, respiratory illness and attention-deficit disorder.