Environmental risks to US children: some progress, but problems remain

Under an Executive Order proclaimed by President Clinton the US Environmental Protection Agency is required to “make it a high priority to identify and assess environmental health risks and safety risks that may disproportionately affect children”. Last week the EPA published its third report on America’s Children and the Environment.

In more than 400 pages the report documents where progress has been made in reducing environmental risks to children and where much remains to be done.  Much of the good news comes from improvements to air quality. Examples of the many indicators reported include:

  • From 1999 to 2009, the proportion of children living in counties with measured pollutant concentrations above the levels of one or more national ambient air quality standards decreased from 75% to 59%.
  • Hazardous air pollutants still present a problem: in 2005, nearly all children (99.9%) lived in census tracts in which hazardous air pollutant (HAP) concentrations combined to exceed the 1-in-100,000 cancer risk benchmark.
  • Since 2002, the percentage of children served by community drinking water systems that did not meet all applicable health-based standards has fluctuated between 7% and 13%, with the most recent estimate being 7% in 2009.
  • In 2009, 35% of sampled apples had detectable organophosphate pesticide residues; in 2007, 5% of sampled carrots had such residues; in 2009, 8% of sampled grapes had such residues; and in 2008 9% of sampled tomatoes had detectable residues. In each case, the percentage of samples having detectable organophosphate pesticide residues showed significant decline over a decade earlier but one can certainly question whether any such residues should still be present.
  • The proportion of children reported to currently have asthma has increased from 8.7% in 2001 to 9.4% in 2010. In 2007–2010, the percentages of Black non-Hispanic children and children of “All Other Races” reported to currently have asthma, 16.0% and 12.4% respectively, were greater than for White non-Hispanic children (8.2%), Hispanic children (7.9%), and Asian non-Hispanic children (6.8%).

Though focused on environmental risks to children, including those to expectant mothers, the report presents a solid overview of the state of pollution in the US. An EPA summary of the report and a link to the page where the page can be found is at http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/1FE31A8BC6EB3C4385257AFE0061B1F4


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