(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Children are more vulnerable to toxic pollution than adults. Their bodies are developing rapidly -- including their brains, hearts and lungs, their nervous and immune systems – so exposures to toxic chemicals at critical times in their development can have life-long impacts.
That’s why I wrote the law that ensures that the EPA takes children and other vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and the elderly, into account when setting drinking water standards, not just healthy adult men.
And that is why I asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the EPA’s role in protecting children’s health and to give me a report card on how the federal government is doing in keeping our children safe from environmental dangers.
As the GAO has said in its report, “Children face disproportionate health risks from environmental contaminants such as pollution in air, lead paint in homes, pesticide residues on food, and treatment-resistant microbes in drinking water. Such hazards contribute to asthma, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, and other diseases, and many of the nation’s 74 million children are exposed to them daily.”
Senator Klobuchar joined me in this request as Chair of this Committee’s Subcommittee on Children’s Health. Today we are releasing GAO’s final report, the culmination of an in-depth two-year investigation. Based on GAO’s report, I am very concerned that EPA has not followed through on its initial commitment in the late 1990s to make children a priority, with the creation of the Office of Children’s Health and other steps designed to put kids first.
The GAO report paints a clear picture:
First, the GAO found that EPA has not focused attention on children’s health in agency-wide priorities, strategies, and rulemakings.
GAO also found that EPA has not fully utilized its Office of Children’s Health Protection and other child-focused resources.
At the same time, GAO concluded that opportunities exist for EPA to lead and coordinate national efforts to protect children from environmental threats. The current administration has begun the task of returning the focus to children as a central mission of the agency. I applaud these efforts, but there is much more work to do.
I am working on a bill with Senator Klobuchar that would authorize an interagency task force geared toward protecting children’s health from environmental threats. This Task Force was originally put in place by President Clinton in an Executive Order, but the Task Force lapsed, and we want to make sure that the work of this important group is made permanent.
I am also working with Senator Bill Nelson, who is here to testify today, on legislation to strengthen the EPA role in investigating cancer, birth defects, and other disease clusters that may be associated with environmental toxins.
Communities that experience unusual increases in birth defects, cancers and other diseases, especially in children, should get more help from the federal government, including EPA, in getting to the root of the problem. In my home state, we have a community in Kettleman City that is working with the State of California to investigate the reason for the level of birth defects, and Senator Nelson will talk about a community in Florida and their efforts to determine the cause of the childhood brain cancers being experienced there. Senator Nelson and I would like to make sure these communities, and others like them around the country, can get the help they need so they can get answers quickly.
The goal of this oversight hearing today, as well as the legislative efforts we have underway, is very straightforward. Protecting children’s health must be central to EPA’s mission across the board, and the Agency must specifically remedy the deficiencies identified by the GAO when it comes to this critical issue. Our legislative efforts are designed to accomplish the same thing – to ensure the health and safety of children in communities across the country.