The issue central to concerns about adolescents' working and their potential physical vulnerabilities is whether anatomic and physiologic processes are mature in adolescence, or whether they are still developing. Considerable scientific study has been devoted to the issues of chemical exposures, toxicology, pharmacology, and metabolism among infants and young children. However, there are very few scientific data on these issues for the adolescent population, which is the group that encompasses most American young workers. Thus, one is left with minimal specifically relevant science and a great need for further research on these issues, and knowledge about adolescent growth, development, anatomy, and physiology.
The major points resulting from a review of the relevant literature are as follows:
Some basic science literature documents small increments in growth in some body systems during adolescence; they include renal excretion and the size of alveoli in the pulmonary system.
Pharmacokinetic studies and clinical experience make it apparent that, despite these increments in growth, adolescent body systems are similar to adult systems in most respects, and therefore, no inherent special vulnerability can be attributed to those systems. Exceptions to this include the endocrine system, which may be especially vulnerable during adolescence; the musculoskeletal system, which has special vulnerabilities in both childhood and adolescence as compared with adulthood; and the brain, in which altered learning capacity may have more serious implications for a teen who still has much to learn, than for an adult, who has more fully completed the task of learning the essentials facts of life.
The fact that rapid cell growth occurs during adolescence has raised concerns that young workers may be particularly vulnerable to potential carcinogens, and to substances associated with diseases of long latency. There are no data at present to inform either of these concerns beyond the hypothetical.
Because adolescents are of childbearing age, exposures to occupational hazards carry the same concerns about harm to reproductive functioning as they do for adults in the workplace.
With the exceptions noted above, the exposure to occupational chemicals appears to carry the same risks for adolescents as for adults. Any small differences in growth, anatomy, and physiology