Colorado Children's Environmental Health Profile

Did you know 71% of children under 18 in Colorado live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution? Or that 9.1% of children under age 18 had asthma (compared to the National average of 7.7%) in 2018-2019? There are 1.3 million children in Colorado, and approximately 12% 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 report details key Colorado children's environmental health indicators, federal support received by the state, and the work the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) are doing to protect children's health.

Continue reading to learn more about how children living in Colorado are experiencing adverse health outcomes due to environmental exposures in their air, water, and food, or click the blue button to download the factsheet.

Key Children's Environmental Health Indicators for Colorado

What is a Children's Environmental Health Indicator?

See Indicator References

Safe Drinking Water: 40% of public water utilities had drinking water violations (2019).
National average: 32%
Air Quality: 71% of children under age 18 live in counties with unhealthy ozone pollution (2020)
Warming Temperatures: 2.9 degrees F warmer in 2018 than in 1970.
National average 2.5 degrees F warmer
Toxic Chemical Releases: 24.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals were disposed of or released (2018).
United States 3.8 billion pounds
Asthma: 6.5% of children under age 18 have asthma (2017)
Nationwide: 7.6%
Pediatric Cancer: 174 cases of pediatric cancer per 1 million population (2005-2015) Nationwide: 181.0 cases per 1 million
Blood lead levels: 1.0% of tested children under age 6 have elevated blood lead levels (2016)
Nationwide: 3.0%
Neurodevelopmental Disorders:

8.8% of children age 3-17 have ADD or ADHD (2017-2018).
Nationwide: 8.7%.

2.9% of children age 3-17  have Autism Spectrum Disorder (2017)
Nationwide: 2.9%

Colorado Spotlight: 

Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child's health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, reduced IQ, and learning disabilities. A common source of lead in drinking water are lead service lines (LSLs) which bring municipal water into homes. Full LSL, replacement is imperative to reduce the risk of lead exposure to millions of families, especially those in under-resourced communities and communities of color

In 2020 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule -the rule that is responsible for drinking water infrastructure and contaminants. There are several problems with the proposed revisions, including a lowered rate for required LSL replacements, With the proposed new rate, it could take more than 33 years for all LSLs in a poorly performing water system to be replaced.

However, cities and states are stepping up to protect their residents' health. Denver Water's Lead Reduction Program is undertaking aggressive action to fully replace all of the estimated 64,000-84,000 LSLs in its service area within 15 years. Vulnerable neighborhoods and properties that service large numbers of at-risk individuals, such as child care facilities will be prioritized in the replacement effort.

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

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

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 241 Toxic Release Inventory Facilities in Colorado. Reporting Year 2018. Accessed on April 28, 2020.

Neurodevelopmental Disorders


Pediatric Cancer

Blood Lead Levels
  • Indicator Note: In 2016, 6.6% of Colorado children under age 6 were tested for blood lead levels (BLLs). Of those tested, 1% had a BLL>= 5 µg/dL. Often the most vulnerable children are not tested, and not all who are tested get reported, so 1% is likely an underestimate of the true scope of children's elevated blood lead in Colorado. There is no safe level of lead exposure for children. A potent neurotoxicant, lead reduces IQ and impairs other cognitive, behavioral and developmental functions. In 2021, the CDC lowered the BLL reference value from 5 to 3.5 µg/dL.
  • Reference: National Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed on March 25, 2020 

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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