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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016

Outdoor Air Quality

One important children's environmental health measure is the percentage of children living in areas in which air pollution levels are higher than the allowable levels of the Primary National Ambient Air Quality Standards.36 The Environmental Protection Agency sets these standards to protect public health, including susceptible groups such as children. Ozone and particulate matter (PM) are air pollutants associated with increased asthma episodes, and other respiratory illnesses in children, all of which can lead to increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations.37, 38 PM, especially fine PM2.5, contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into lungs and cause serious health problems. Studies indicate the possibility of race-related increases in risk for some health effects resulting from exposure to ozone and PM, although the understanding of potential differences by race is limited by the small number of studies and possibly confounded by other factors.37, 38

Figure 12: Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in counties with pollutant concentrations above the levels of the current 8-hour ozone and 24-hour fine particulate matter (PM2.5) standards by race and Hispanic origin, 2000–2014
Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in counties with pollutant concentrations above the levels of the current 8-hour ozone and 24-hour fine particulate matter (PM2.5) standards by race and Hispanic origin, 2000–2014

NOTE: Percentages are based on the number of children, by race and ethnicity, living in counties where measured air pollution concentrations were higher than the levels of the 8-hour ozone and 24-hour fine particulate matter (PM2.5) Primary National Ambient Air Quality Standards, at least once during the year. The Environmental Protection Agency periodically reviews air quality standards and may change them based on updated scientific findings. The indicator is calculated with reference to the current levels of the air quality standards for all years shown. Measuring concentrations above the level of a standard is not equivalent to violating the standard. The level of a standard may be exceeded on multiple days before the exceedance is considered a violation of the standard. Data have been revised since previous publication in America's Children. Values have been recalculated based on updated data in the Air Quality System and the revised ozone air quality standard promulgated in October 2015. For more information on the air quality standard used in calculating these percentages, please see http://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants/naaqs-table.

SOURCE: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, Air Quality System.

  • In 2014, about 54 percent of all U.S. children lived in counties with measured pollutant concentrations above the level of the 8-hour ozone Primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard at least once during the year.
  • In 2014, approximately 68 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic and 67 percent of Hispanic children lived in counties that exceeded the level of the allowable air quality standard for ozone, compared with 57 percent of Black, non-Hispanic; 46 percent of White, non-Hispanic; and 34 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic children.
  • From 2000 to 2014, the percentage of children living in counties with measured ozone concentrations above the level of the current standard at least one day per year declined from 67 to 54 percent.
  • In 2014, about 28 percent of all children lived in counties with measured concentrations of PM2.5 above the level of the 24-hour Primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard at least once during the year.
  • In 2014, approximately 38 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic and 42 percent of Hispanic children lived in counties that exceeded the level of the allowable air quality standard for PM2.5 compared with 25 percent of Black, non-Hispanic; 21 percent of White, non-Hispanic; and 20 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic children.
  • From 2000 to 2014, the percentage of children living in counties with measured PM2.5 concentrations above the level of the current standard at least one day per year declined from 62 to 28 percent.

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36 This measure does not differentiate between counties in which the Primary National Ambient Air Quality Standards are exceeded frequently or by a large margin and counties in which the standards are exceeded only rarely or by a small margin. It must also be noted that this analysis differs from the analysis utilized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the designation of "nonattainment areas" for regulatory compliance purposes.

37 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). Integrated science assessment of ozone and related photochemical oxidants (EPA Report No. 600/R-10/076F). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/isa/recordisplay.cfm?deid=247492

38 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2009). 2009 Final report: Integrated science assessment for particulate matter (EPA/600/R-08/139F). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/risk/recordisplay.cfm?deid=216546