(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I believe that this oversight hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Children’s Health Protection Record is key to our work. Protecting children’s health should be a top-level priority for every EPA program.
Children are not little adults -- they can be extremely vulnerable to harm from toxic chemicals, often far more vulnerable and more exposed to pollutants than adults. Their rapidly growing bodies, complex and developing nervous and immune systems, and their way of exploring their environment, including by putting just about everything they find in their mouths, all make children more vulnerable to harm from toxic pollutants than adults.
Their small size means that they also consume more air, drink more liquids, and eat more food for their body weight than do adults. A 10-pound infant may not be able to withstand the same amount of air pollution as a 170 pound adult male -- without suffering lifelong injury.
On April 21, 1997, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13045, titled: “Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks.” This order established a national policy requiring all federal agencies “to make it a high priority” to assess environmental health risks that may disproportionately affect children, and to ensure agencies’ “policies, programs, activities, and standards” addressed such risks.
The order also created an interagency taskforce that reported to the President with recommendations on ways to better protect children’s health.
In May, 1997, Administrator Browner established the Office of Children’s Health Protection to help EPA implement the order, and “to make the protection of children’s health a fundamental goal of public health and environmental protection in the United States.”
EPA also created a Federal Advisory Committee on Children’s Health Protection to advise EPA on children’s environmental health issues as it develops standards, communicates with the public; and conducts research.
When it was first created, EPA used the Office of Children’s Health Protection and the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee in a proactive way, to help the agency better protect our children.
Unfortunately, it has become clear that EPA has taken a dangerous U-turn on children’s health protection. My colleagues and I have spoken out and fought against EPA decisions that put our children’s health at risk – on perchlorate, mercury, and dangerous air pollution, such as smog and toxic soot, and lead. We know that children are more vulnerable than adults to these threats. And we know that these contaminants are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that we live on.
Because of a disturbing pattern in rollback after rollback, Senator Clinton joined me in asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate EPA’s record on children’s health. Today they are here to give their interim findings.
The early results of GAO’s investigation could not be more deeply troubling. GAO has found that EPA has failed to follow up on the recommendations of its children’s health experts, and has weakened the Office of Children’s Health Protection. This is absolutely unacceptable.
You also may remember the infamous CHEERS program that EPA proposed jointly with the pesticide industry in 2005, which would have provided gifts to low-income families to participate in a study to evaluate children’s exposure to toxic pesticides in their homes. We forced EPA to cancel that unethical study, and required EPA to issue new rules banning these types of tests. However, EPA’s rules failed to sufficiently protect children, and I have joined with other colleagues in filing an amicus brief in the court challenge to EPA’s rules.
I was stunned when EPA recently tried to quietly issue a proposal that could have allowed studies very similar to CHEERS. At my request, my Committee staff asked EPA a series of detailed questions about the ethical and other aspects of this proposal. EPA was unable to answer these questions, so last week the agency announced it was cancelling the proposal
Good. But why would they consider it in the first place?
We know that the failure to protect children’s health has consequences.
We will hear testimony from Dr. Trasande of Mount Sinai Medical Center today that “chronic diseases of environmental origin have become epidemic in American children.” These diseases include:
* Birth defects;
* Neurodevelopmental disorders;
* Brain cancer in children
* Testicular cancer in adolescents; and,
* Preterm birth
We also will hear from GAO that “EPA no longer has high-level infrastructure or mandate to coordinate federal strategies for children’s environmental health.”
None of this reflects the values of the American people. We must make children’s health our top priority. I will do everything in my power to ensure that EPA’s inexcusable policy of neglecting children’s health in carrying out its mission is reversed.
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