UW News

December 18, 2002

1 million children in state live in counties with polluted air, researchers find

More than 1 million Washington children live in counties where the air they breathe could be harmful to their development and health, according to the UW researchers.

The 2002 County/City Profiles of Child and Family Well-Being report released today by the UW’s Washington Kids Count project found that industries in nine counties accounted for three-quarters of the release of industrial toxic chemicals into the state’s air in 2000.

Those nine counties — Clark, Cowlitz, King, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Walla Walla and Whatcom — are home to more than 1 million children.

Industries in four of the state’s 39 counties — Snohomish, Benton, Clark, and Whatcom — accounted for two-thirds of the release of industrial toxic chemicals into the water, while industries in Lewis County accounted for 82 percent of the release of industrial toxic chemicals into the land.

Each year, industries must report the levels of toxic chemicals they release into the air, land and water. Almost three-quarters of the top 20 chemicals reported in 1997 were known or suspected neurotoxicants (chemicals that are toxic to the developing brain). Neurotoxicant exposure is linked to a variety of childhood disorders.

“Industrial toxic chemical releases, along with pesticides, vehicle exhaust and other forms of pollution, can create a dangerous environment for raising families,” said Sheri Hill, assistant director of Washington Kids Count. “It’s time for environmental, health and social services organizations to work together to improve the health and safety of Washington children.”

The UW researchers said this information raises a “yellow flag” for industries and communities. Current knowledge of the impact of the releases on children and families is similar to the level of knowledge of the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke 20 years ago.

“We know that young bodies and brains are especially vulnerable to toxic chemical exposures, so the potential for harm can be substantial,” said Elaine Faustman, director of the UW’s Center for Child Environmental Health Risks Research. “It is essential that we partner with business and community leaders, legislators and policymakers to ensure that we know if, when and how these releases impact our families.”

The 2002 County/City Profiles of Child and Family Well-Being report examines how children and families are faring in each of the state’s 39 counties and its three biggest cities of Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane.

Below are key statewide findings from the report:


— Washington’s child population is growing in size and diversity. Between 1990 and 2000, the overall number of Washington children increased by 20 percent; Hispanic children increased by 106 percent; Asian/Pacific Islanders increased by 35 percent; and the number of African American children grew by 16 percent. Continued growth, especially in the number of children under 5, is expected through 2005.

— Six counties saw a 30 percent or greater increase in child population during this period: Clark (46 percent), Grant (39 percent), Chelan (33 percent), Franklin (32 percent), San Juan (31 percent), and Skagit (30 percent).

— The Hispanic population more than doubled in 22 counties and grew by more than 170 percent in the following seven counties: Chelan, Grays Harbor, Kittitas, Mason, Lincoln, Pacific and San Juan.

— Half of all counties showed a decline in average annual wages from 2000 to 2001. The lowest average annual wages are in Okanogan County at $19,999; the highest annual wages, $47,185, are in King County.

–In September 2002, one in 10 Washington children lived in counties where unemployment was higher than 8 percent.


— More than one in five babies are born with inadequate prenatal care in more than one-third of the state’s counties. Franklin County tops the list with 38 percent of babies born without adequate prenatal care.

–Medicaid paid for more than half the births in 13 counties. Adams had the highest Medicaid birth rate followed by Garfield, Grant, Franklin, Yakima, Jefferson and Okanogan.

–In 2001, Child Protective Services judged almost 14,000 children to be victims of maltreatment.


The 2002 County/City Profiles of Child and Family Well-Being report is produced by Washington Kids Count, a project of the Human Services Policy Center at the UW’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

More information on Washington’s children may be found in the 2002 State of Washington’s Children report, or by calling Washington Kids Count at (206) 685-6713. Reports and county rankings are available on-line at www.hspc.org.

The UW Center for Child Environmental Health Risks Research was formed to learn about children’s susceptibility to pesticides and how environmental agents affect children’s development and learning. For more information log on to http://depts.washington.edu/chc/.