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Children's Health Protection

Key Findings


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Part I: Environmental Contaminants

Outdoor Air Pollution

  • Between 1990 and 1998, the percentage of children living in counties where one or more of the six criteria air pollutants (ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide) exceeded national air quality standards decreased from 28 percent to 24 percent, although it fluctuated from a high of 32 percent to a low of 17 percent.

  • The percentage of children's days with unhealthy air quality decreased between 1990 and 1998, dropping from 4 percent in 1990 to less than 2 percent in 1998.

  • In 1990, 100 percent of America's children lived in counties in which a 1-in-100,000 benchmark for cancer risk was exceeded by at least one hazardous air pollutant. In the same year, 6 percent of children lived in counties in which a 1-in-10,000 cancer risk benchmark was exceeded by at least one hazardous air pollutant. Also in the same year, nearly 95 percent of children lived in counties in which a benchmark for non-cancer health effects was exceeded by at least one hazardous air pollutant.

Indoor Air Pollution

  • The percentage of homes with children under 7 in which someone regularly smokes declined from 29 percent in 1994 to 19 percent in 1999.

Drinking Water Contaminants

  • Between 1993 and 1998, the percentage of children living in areas served by public water systems in which a drinking water standard for chemicals, radiation, or microbial contaminants was exceeded, or treatment rules were violated, decreased from 19 to 8 percent.

  • Between 1993 and 1998, the number of children served by a public water system in which the nitrate or nitrite drinking water standard was exceeded decreased by close to 20 percent.

  • The percentage of children living in areas served by public water systems with at least one major monitoring or reporting violation dropped from 21 percent in 1993 to 10 percent in 1998.

Pesticide Residues in Foods

  • Of the fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and processed foods tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program, 62 percent showed detectable pesticide residues in 1994. This number decreased to 55 percent in 1998 but fluctuated in the interim years.

Part II: Biomonitoring

Concentrations of Lead in Blood

  • Average concentrations of lead in the blood of children aged 5 and under dropped 78 percent from 16.5 micrograms per deciliter in 1976-80 to 3.6 in 1992-94. The decrease is largely attributed to the elimination of leaded gasoline between 1973 and 1995.

  • Between 1992 and 1994, approximately 1.5 million children aged 17 and younger had elevated blood lead levels (higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter).

  • Race and poverty affect a child's likelihood of having elevated concentrations of lead in his or her blood. Children living in families with incomes below the poverty line are more likely to have elevated blood lead levels. Black children are more likely to have elevated levels than white non-Hispanic and Hispanic children.

Part III: Childhood Diseases

Respiratory Diseases

  • The prevalence of asthma among children in the United States increased 75 percent between 1980 and 1994. In 1990, 5.8 percent of children had asthma, increasing to 7.5 percent in 1995.

  • In 1997-98, 8.3 percent of non-Hispanic Black children living in families with incomes below the poverty level had asthma, the highest for all racial groups and income levels.

  • The frequency of asthma hospitalizations for children aged 0 to 14 fluctuated between 1987 and 1998. In 1987, the frequency was 284 hospitalizations per year per 100,000 children. The frequency increased to 369 per 100,000 in 1995 and then dropped to 277 per 100,000 in 1998.

Childhood Cancer

  • The frequency of cancer in childhood increased from 130 cases per million children in 1975 to 150 cases per million in 1995, though this increase appears to have leveled off since 1990.

  • While the frequency of childhood cancer has increased, the number of deaths from cancer in children has declined significantly since 1972. The decline in deaths is largely due to significant improvements in treatment for many forms of cancer in children.

  • Between 1973 and 1996, leukemia was the cancer most commonly diagnosed among children and represented 25 percent of cases. The frequency of acute lymphoblastic leukemia increased moderately from 23 cases per million in 1973-1978 to approximately 27 cases per million in 1991-1996. The frequency of acute myeloid leukemia has remained stable.

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