EPA Declares October Children’s Environmental Health Month, But Fails To Protect Children

5 kidsThe US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared October Children’s Environmental Health Month.  In recognition of the month, the EPA is giving a tip a day on its website.  EPA admits that children face disproportionate risks for environmental contaminants.  The EPA states that “protecting children’s health from environmental risks is fundamental to EPA’s mission.”

EPA declaring October “Children’s Environmental Health Month” is a bit ironic.  EPA has recently utterly failed to protect our children.  The failure to set a standard for perchlorate is only one of many examples.  In fact, a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report documents that EPA fails to protect our children’s environmental health.  The GAO states that “EPA has not proactively used [the Children’s Health Protection] Advisory Committee to ensure that the agency’s regulations, guidance, and policies address the disproportionate risks that environmental contaminants pose to children.”  The GAO further found that the “EPA has largely disregarded key recommendations from its Advisory Committee . . .”  The GAO further found that the EPA “no longer has a high-level infrastructure to coordinate federal strategies for children’s environmental health and safety.”

On September 16, 2008, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing entitled “Oversight Hearing on EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Efforts.”  EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson did not show up.  In fact, Sen. Boxer, Chairman of the Committee, pointed out that EPA Administrator Johnson had not shown up to the Commitee since March 2007, despite repeated requests from the Committee and despite his promise to make himself available to the Committee.  And I find that inexcusable that the EPA Administrator would not show up. 

When called on it by Sen. Boxer, the EPA representative could only say the Administrator Johnson was unavailable.  (Nothing on EPA Administrator Johnson’s speeches webpage indicates he was elsewhere.)  And one of the funniest (well, to be honest, saddest) exchanges during the hearing (you can watch the webcast – check out the testimony beginning about 01:17) is Sen. Boxer’s probing questions regarding the EPA’s repeated failures to act to protect children’s environmental health, and the EPA’s representative, George Gray, is left speechless, is Sen. Boxer’s statement that he has “lost [his] ability to answer these questions.”

It is frustrating to hear the testimony of people like Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, Co-Director of the Children Environmental Health Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, about the failures of the EPA and the results on our children.  Dr. Trasande testified that “[o]ver the past thirty years, chronic diseases of environmental origina have become epidemic in American children . . .

  • Asthma, which has more than doubled in frequency since 1980 and become the leading cause of pediatric hospitalization and school absenteeism;

  • Birth defects, which are no the leading cause of infant death.  Certain birth defects, such as hypospadias, have doubled in frequency;

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders – autism, dyslexia, mental retardation, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  These conditions affect 5-10% of the 4 million babies born each year in the United States.  Reported rates of autism are increasing especially sharply – more than 20% per year.

  • Leukemia and brain cancer in children and testicular cancer in adolescents.  Incidence rates of these malignancies have increased since the 1970s, despite declining rates of mortality.

  • Testicular cancer has risen by 55%, and primary brain cancer by 40%.  Cancer is not the second leading cause of death in American children, surpassed only by traumatic injuries; and

  • Preterm birth, which has increased in incidence by 27% since 1981.”

What does that mean?  As Dr. Trasande testified, “the rapidly rising rates of chronic disease may create a situation unprecedented in the 200 years of our nation’s history, in which our current generation of children may be the first American children ever not to enjoy a longer life span than the generation before them.” 

What can we do?  We can take steps in our lives to reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals.  But more importantly, we can press our agencies, at all levels, and our elected officials to protect our children.

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