US Kids Less Exposed to Lead, Second-Hand Smoke

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US Kids Less Exposed to Lead, Second-Hand Smoke
Tue February 25, 2003 01:51 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new nationwide report released Monday reveals that children in the US are now exposed to less lead and second-hand smoke than in years past, but remain plagued by asthma and in danger of exposure to toxins in the womb.

About 8% of women of reproductive age have potentially dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, according to the report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report is the second by the agency to track trends in environmental factors that can influence the health of children.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said in a statement that the findings of the current report will help tailor the agency's efforts to meet the most crucial health needs of the nation's children.

"As our data and methods improve, we will work to develop increasingly reliable children's environmental health indicators that help us reach our children's health goals," she said.

The report shows that the proportion of children under 7 who shared a home with a smoker fell from 29% to 19% between 1994 and 1999.

Recent years have also seen a marked decrease in the levels of lead in children's blood. For instance, half of children 5 or younger had blood lead levels below 15 micrograms per deciliter in 1976-1980, while half of those tested in 1999-2000 had lead levels that fell below 2.2 micrograms per deciliter, a drop of 85%.

Children with high blood levels of lead are at risk of developmental delays and behavioral problems.

Despite the encouraging decreases in blood lead levels, the amount of the toxin still varies with a child's socioeconomic status and race, the report indicates.

While in 1999-2000, half of children younger than 5 had blood lead levels below 2.2 micrograms per deciliter, that value was 2.8 among children living below the poverty line, and 1.9 among children living above the poverty line.

And regardless of income, half of African-American children had blood lead levels below 2.8 micrograms per deciliter, compared with 2.1 in white children and 2.0 in Latino children.

Despite improvements in certain aspects of children's health, something in the US environment is affecting their breathing, the report notes.

Between 1980 and 1995, the proportion of kids with asthma increased two-fold.

In 2001, 6.3 million US kids, or 9%, had asthma, the report indicates. More than 6% of children living below the poverty line reported experiencing an asthma attack during the previous 12 months, a slightly higher number than that reported by those living at or above poverty level.

In order to ease breathing in the nation's youth, the agency said it plans to continue to cut potentially deadly emissions from vehicles and power plants, and to monitor the safety of playground equipment.

Children also continue to face dangers before they are even born, the agency adds.

According to the current report, entitled "America's Children and the Environment: Measures of Contaminants, Body Burdens, and Illnesses," 8% of women of reproductive age have potentially dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies.

In order to lower levels of this toxin--which can cause permanent damage to the brain and kidneys--EPA officials report they will continue certain mercury-reducing strategies.

These strategies involve removing mercury from household products such as batteries, and cleaning the toxin out of emissions from municipal waste combustion and medical waste incineration, two major sources of air emissions.


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