The physical environment in which children develop should be healthy and safe from hazardous conditions. Indicators of environmental quality include exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollutants and surfaces contaminated with lead. The safety of children's environments is also measured by housing problems and violent crime victimization.
Outdoor air pollutants, such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter, can cause respiratory problems and aggravate asthma in children. 13, 14, 15, 16 In 2010, 67 percent of children ages 0–17 lived in counties with pollutant concentrations above the levels of one or more current air quality standards, up from 59 percent in 2009, but down from 77 percent in 2003.
Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the probability of lower respiratory tract infections, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).17 Since 2005, the percentage of children ages 0–6 living in a home where someone smoked regularly declined in all racial and income groups, while the disparities among racial and income groups remain unchanged. In 2010, 10 percent of children ages 0–6 living in poverty lived in a home where someone smoked regularly, down from 15 percent in 2005 and 37 percent in 1994 (Figure 8).
NOTE: A home where someone smoked regularly is defined as one in which smoking by a resident occurred 4 or more days per week.
SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that "no level of lead in a child's blood can be specified as safe."18 On average, children's IQ scores decrease by 6 points as blood lead levels increase from 0 to 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). 19, 20 The estimate for 2007–2010 of children with levels greater than 10µg/dL is a low percentage and the available sample is too small to provide a statistically reliable estimate, as in 2003–2006. For 2007–2010, 3 percent of children had a blood lead level at or above 5 µg/dL, and 13 percent had levels at or above 2.5 µg/dL; the corresponding percentages in 2003–2006 were 4 percent and 21 percent. Black, non-Hispanic children had the highest blood lead levels among all racial and ethnic groups in 2007–2010; these percentages were approximately double the percentage for all children.
Inadequate, unhealthy, crowded, or too-costly housing can pose serious problems for children's physical, psychological, and material well-being.21 In 2009, 45 percent of U.S. households with children had physically inadequate housing, crowded housing, and/or a housing cost burden of more than 30 percent of household income.22 Cost burdens have driven significant increases in the overall incidence of housing problems over the long-term and especially since 2003, when 37 percent of households with children had one or more of these problems.
One measure of children's safety is their violent crime victimization rate. In 2010, the rate at which youth were victims of serious violent crimes was 7 crimes per 1,000 juveniles ages 12–17, down from 11 per 1,000 in 2009 (Figure 9). Serious violent victimization rates of male youth declined from 15 per 1,000 males ages 12–17 in 2009 to 9 per 1,000 in 2010. Serious violent victimization rates of female youth remained relatively stable between 2009 and 2010. The rate of youth crime victimization declined sharply from the early 1990s through the early 2000s, and has declined more slowly since then.
NOTE: Serious violent crimes include aggravated assault, rape, robbery (stealing by force or threat of violence), and homicide. Homicide data were not available for 2010 at the time of publication. The number of homicides for 2009 is included in the overall total for 2010. In 2009, homicides represented about 1 percent of serious violent crime, and the total number of homicides of juveniles has been relatively stable over the last decade. Because of changes made in the victimization survey, data prior to 1992 are adjusted to make them comparable with data collected under the redesigned methodology. Due to further methodological changes in the 2006 National Crime Victimization Survey, use caution when comparing 2006 criminal victimization estimates to other years. See Criminal Victimization, 2007, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=764, for more information. Estimates may vary from previous publication due to updating of more recent homicide and victimization numbers.
SOURCE: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey and Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Supplementary Homicide Reports.
In 2010, the total death rate among children ages 5–14 was 13 deaths per 100,000 children. The death rate from unintentional injury, the leading cause of deaths, was 4 per 100,000 in 2010. The rate of unintentional injury in 1980, the first year reported in America's Children, was 15 per 100,000 children ages 5–14.
13 U.S. EPA. Air Quality Criteria for Ozone and Related Photochemical Oxidants (Final Report). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-05/004aF-cF, 2006.
14 U.S. EPA. Integrated Science Assessment for Oxides of Nitrogen—Health Criteria (Final Report). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-08/071, 2008.
15 U.S. EPA. Integrated Science Assessment (ISA) for Sulfur Oxides—Health Criteria (Final Report). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-08/047F, 2008.
16 U.S. EPA. Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter (Final Report). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-08/139F, 2009.
17 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006). The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/secondhandsmoke/report-index.html.
18 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2005). Preventing lead poisoning in young children. Atlanta: CDC, available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/publications/PrevLeadPoisoning.pdf.
19 Lanphear, B.P., Hornung, R., Khoury, J., Yolton, K., Baghurst, P., Bellinger, D.C., . . . Roberts, R. (2005). Low-level environmental lead exposure and children's intellectual function: An international pooled analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113 (7), 894–899.
20 Jusko, T.A., Henderson, C.R.Jr., Lanphear, B.P., Cory-Slechta, D.A., Parsons, P.J., and Canfield, R.L. (2008). Blood lead concentrations < 10 µg/dL and child intelligence at 6 years of age. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116 (2), 243–248.
21 Breysse, P., Farr, N., Galke, W., Lanphear, B., Morley, R., Bergofsky, L. (2004). The relationship between housing and health: Children at risk. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112 (15), 1583–1588. Krieger, J., and Higgins, D.L. (2002). Housing and health: Time again for public health action. American Journal of Public Health 92 (5), 758–68.
22 Paying 30 percent or more of income for housing may leave insufficient resources for other basic needs. See Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance, National Research Council. (1995). Measuring poverty: A new approach. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/povmeas/toc.html.