January 8, 2001
EPA Says Kids Face Environmental Health Threats
Filed at 5:51 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fewer American children now live in counties with
heavily polluted air but kids face other growing environmental health
problems such as asthma, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on
The findings are contained in a report assessing trends in environmental
factors affecting the health of children, whose developing bodies are
generally more vulnerable to pollution and toxins than adults.
Outgoing EPA Administrator Carol Browner used the report to highlight
concerns of a Clinton administration that has fewer than two weeks left in
``The Clinton-Gore Administration has made the protection of children's
health one of its highest environmental priorities,'' EPA Administrator
Carol Browner said in a statement. ``We especially are concerned about such
issues as exposure to lead and pesticides and rising incidents of childhood
A Senate panel is scheduled to consider next week President-elect George W.
Bush's nomination of New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to replace
Browner as head of EPA.
The report showed there has been some progress in curbing environmental
health threats to kids.
For example, data in the report showed a decline from 28 percent in 1990 to
23 percent in 1998 in the percentage of American children living in counties
where one or more of a half-dozen key air pollutants exceed national air
quality standards. Those pollutants include carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide
The EPA also noted a decrease in the percentage of homes with a tobacco
smoker and a child under age seven. That fell from 29 percent in 1994 to 19
percent in 1999, the study said.
Another improvement occurred in the availability of safe drinking water for
children. The percentage of children living in areas that logged violations
of drinking water standards fell from 19 percent in 1993 to 8 percent in
But other trends are worrisome, the EPA said.
Environmental health problems are consistently higher among low-income
families, the study said. Poor, black children have a higher rate of asthma
than other racial groups and income levels.
And the prevalence of asthma among all children in the United States
increased from 5.8 percent in 1990 to 7.5 percent in 1995, the agency said.
The EPA said its report did not offer any quick fixes to the health issues,
and instead outlined how the federal government needs to develop better
measurements and data to address kids' environmental health issues.
The EPA separately announced it would require companies to make public more
information about their lead emissions into the air, water and land.
The new rules will require companies that annually use more than 100 pounds
of lead and lead compounds to provide information to the EPA under the
agency's consumer right-to-know program. Previously, reporting rules applied
to users of more than 10,000 pounds annually.
Young children and developing fetuses absorb lead more readily than adults.
Lead exposure can damage the brain and central nervous system, slow growth
and cause learning problems.
Environmental groups have urged the EPA to tighten various rules to protect
the health of children, but business interests often contend that more
scientific data is needed to assess the threat of environmental factors