California Children's Environmental Health Profile

Did you know 89% of children under 18 in California live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution? Or that 3.3% of children under age 18 had Autism Spectrum Disorder (compared to the National average of 2.9%) in 2018-2019? There are 8.9 million children in California, and approximately 16% of them live in poverty. Poverty is an important social determinant of health; poverty hurts children and their families. Children of color and young children are disproportionately poor and experience many issues that lead to adverse health outcomes. All children deserve a safe and healthy environment to grow and develop.

This profile highlights key California children's environmental health indicators, federal support received by the states for environmental health, health equity and climate and health programs, and a spotlight feature on a children's environmental-health related topical issue.

Continue reading to learn more about environmental hazards, children's exposures, and children's health outcomes in California, or click the blue button to download the profile as a PDF.

Key Children's Environmental Health Indicators for California

What is a Children's Environmental Health Indicator?

See Indicator References

Safe Drinking Water: 21% of public water utilities had drinking water violations.
National average: 30%
Air Quality: 89% of children under age 18 live in counties with unhealthy ozone pollution
Warming Temperatures: 2.7 degrees F warmer in 2020 than in 1970.
National average 2.8 degrees F warmer
Toxic Chemical Releases: 39.2 million pounds of toxic chemicals were disposed of or released.
United States 3.4 billion pounds
Asthma: 7.4% of children under age 18 have asthma (2018- 2019)
Nationwide: 7.7%
Pediatric Cancer: 181 cases of pediatric cancer per 1 million population (2005-2015) Nationwide: 181 cases per 1 million
Blood lead levels: 1.48% of tested children under age 6 have elevated blood lead levels (2018)
Nationwide: 2.6%
Neurodevelopmental Disorders:

5.6% of children age 3-17 have ADD or ADHD (2018-2019).
Nationwide: 8.7%.

3.3% of children age 3-17  have Autism Spectrum Disorder (2018- 2019)
Nationwide: 2.9%

California Spotlight: Climate Change and Health Vulnerability Planning Tool

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) seeks to reduce and prevent adverse and inequitable physical and mental health impacts associated with climate change. With partial funding from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's Climate Ready States and Cities Initiative, the CDPH Climate Change and Health Equity Section and its CalBRACE Project developed Climate Change & Health Vulnerability Indicators for California (CCHVIs) and an online interactive platform to visualize the data, CCHVIz, These tools assist with climate change planning and prioritizing actions to protect people most at risk, including children.

The CCHVIz displays three categories of indicators that influence vulnerability to health impacts of climate change: exposure indicators including heat, air quality, wildfires, and sea level rise; population sensitivity indicators including children, elderly, poverty, education, outdoor workers, vehicle ownership, linguistic isolation, disability, health insurance, and violent crime rate; and adaptive capacity indicators including air conditioning ownership, tree canopy, and impervious surfaces.

The CCHVIz provides health officials and planners with an online snapshot to compare their county's indicators to the state average. They can view risk by census tract for specific indicators, such as children under age 5, and their breakdown by race and ethnicity. The tool also plots the intersections of exposure indicators (e.g., ozone concentration) with sensitivity indicators (e.g., population under 5 years of age) to learn where children are susceptible to air pollution, extreme heat, wildfire, or other threats. The CCHVIz is an excellent resource for State and local officials in California to plan to prevent and prepare for climate change-related health impacts to young children, especially children of color and children in under-resourced communities.

Federal Support to California within the past 5 years (click to expand):

CDC-funded Climate-Ready States & Cities Initiative
CDC-funded Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
ATSDR State Cooperative Agreement Program
CDC National Asthma Control Program
CDC-funded Environmental Public Health Tracking Program
CDC State Biomonitoring Cooperative Agreement Program

Children's Environmental Health Indicators Selection Criteria (click to expand):

Children's environmental health indicators (CEHIs) are measures that can be used to assess environmental hazards, exposures, and their resulting health outcomes in children.  The below criteria are used when determining which indicators to utilize:
    • Relevance: Each headline indicator should be a clear, understandable indicator of children’s environmental health, with broad relevance for a range of audiences at the state level – with relevance to the national level.
    • Representativeness: The indicators as a package should provide a representative picture of children’s health and relation to the environment.
    • Traceability: Each indicator should be calculated using an agreed-upon (and published) method and accessible and verifiable data.
    • Timeliness: Each indicator should be calculated regularly (at least biennially), with a short lag between the end of the period and publication of the data.
    • Data adequacy: The available data needed for the indicator must be sufficiently robust, reliable and valid.
    • Universality: Indicators must be comparable across all or very nearly all 50 U.S. states.

Indicator Notes and References (click to expand):

Air Quality

Warming Temperature
  • Indicator Note: Warming matters -- it drives most of the hazards associated with climate change such as extreme weather, heat days, droughts and heavy downpours. Children are more vulnerable to harm from extreme heat and to the other cascading effects of warming temperatures.
  • Reference: AMERICAN WARMING: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Climate at a Glance: Statewide Time Series, retrieved July 2021 from

Toxic Chemicals
  • Indicator Note: EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) tracks the management of certain toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment. Certain industrial facilities in the U.S. must report annually how much of each chemical is disposed of or released on and off site. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens, developmental toxicants, and neurotoxicants, such as arsenic, lead and mercury, that adversely impact children's health.
  • Reference: Summary of 263 Toxic Release Inventory Facilities in California. Reporting Year 2019. Accessed June, 2021.

Neurodevelopmental Disorders


Pediatric Cancer

Blood Lead Levels

All children deserve and need a safe and healthy environment to grow and develop. They need clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, nutritious food to eat, and healthy places in which to live, learn, and play. Early exposure to harmful agents can lead to acute and chronic adverse outcomes. Infants and children are especially vulnerable to environmental exposures because they breathe, eat and drink more, in proportion to their body size, than do adults, and because their bodies and brains are still developing.

A blueprint for Protecting Children's Environmental Health Network set out to identify a set of CEHIs that can be used to provide an understanding of children's environmental health at the state level. Through this process, CEHN found that robust, valid, and regularly updated state level data--that are comparable across most states--were not readily accessible. States need adequate funding and capacity to collect and make accessible reliable CEHI data in order to set goals and track progress towards improving children's health.

Children are our future - society has a moral obligation to protect them. Exposure to environmental hazards can and must be prevented. Prevention requires strong environmental regulations, fully funded and supportive public and environmental health programs and a robust workforce.

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