Children's Health Protection
This section of the report presents measures reflecting levels of contaminants of concern for children and how these levels have changed over time. Many different substances can affect the health of children. Children may come into contact with harmful pollutants in air, water, food, and soil. Tracking the levels of these pollutants is an important step toward ensuring that environmental policies protect children.
This section includes measures for contaminants in outdoor air, indoor air, drinking water, food, and soil. Most of the measures show the percentages of children who may be at risk from exposure to critical concentrations of pollutants.
Ideally, the report would include measures that reflect trends in concentrations of all important pollutants in all relevant exposure media. However, data of this type are not available for the most part, and the measures in this section are based largely on surrogates for such data.
The measures in this section do not account for some forms of environmental contaminants that also are important for children but are less amenable to measurement and data collection at a national scale. These include contaminants in dusts and soils in and near homes. Also, the measures do not include exposures through breast-feeding or exposures that occur prenatally.
The Future Directions section describes additional information that would be important to assess potential environmental threats to children fully, as well as ways in which existing data systems might be improved to provide better information for assessments.
Within Part I, the data used to develop measures of pollutants in outdoor air are the most complete. Information about the six most common outdoor air pollutants (often called the criteria pollutants) is available for nine of the 10 target years for this report. The data used are close surrogates for measured concentrations of pollutants, as they indicate whether air quality standards for pollutants were exceeded. Data for some pollutants are available for the vast majority of counties, though data for all six pollutants are available for relatively few counties due to limitations in monitoring networks. The criteria air pollutant measures thus represent all six of the relevant pollutants, provide very good coverage of the target time period, and offer fairly good but not complete coverage of the counties of the United States.
For hazardous outdoor air pollutants, the analysis includes data for one year, 1990. The data used to generate the measure are estimates of ambient concentrations of 148 pollutants most of the pollutants identified as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act for all counties in the contiguous United States.
For indoor air, this initial report includes one pollutant: environmental tobacco smoke. Many other important pollutants, including combustion products and volatile organic compounds, would be relevant to include if data could be identified. The measure used in this report is a surrogate for measured concentrations of environmental tobacco smoke in the home, as it is based on a survey that collected nationally representative data in 1994, 1996, and 1999 about the number of homes with young children in which people smoke.
For drinking water, the report uses surrogate measures for concentrations of contaminants in drinking water, relying on reported violations of drinking water standards for a wide variety of chemicals, physical agents such as radiation, and microbes such as bacteria and viruses. The measures also show trends for violations of rules for treatment of drinking water. The coverage of the measures in this section is fairly complete in terms of geographic areas, years of available data, and chemicals included. However, the reports of violations of standards are incomplete due to monitoring and reporting limitations.
For food, this report presents a measure of the frequency with which detectable levels of pesticides were found in fruits, vegetables, and other foods from 1994-1998. This measure is a surrogate for concentrations of pesticides in foods. The measure has fairly complete national coverage and is available for several years within the target range. However, it does not distinguish among different pesticides or among different foods with pesticide residues. Some pesticides may pose greater risks to children than others do, and residues on some foods may pose greater risks than residues on other foods. Moreover, the measure does not include many contaminants in food that are relevant to children, such as mercury.
For soil, little or no information about contaminants is available at a national scale. The report includes a surrogate measure based on the location of Superfund hazardous waste sites. This measure provides good coverage in that data are available for all counties for 1990-2000, but the measure is recognized to have significant limitations.