Opening Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Oversight Hearing on Disease Clusters and Environmental Health
March 29, 2011
(Remarks as prepared for delivery.)

I would like to begin by thanking our witnesses for coming to testify today.

In particular, I would like to welcome Trevor Schaffer, a brave young man who has overcome so much in his life already, by beating cancer while he was just a child.

Trevor has come out of this experience with great purpose, and has decided to devote his life to helping children who also face the frightening reality of having to beat cancer.

Trevor and our other distinguished witnesses are here to testify on a very important issue -- the need to better protect our families and communities from dangerous diseases that occur in clusters.

I would like to also recognize the two other witnesses from my state of California, Ms. Erin Brockovich and Dr. Gina Solomon.

Without a doubt, our country has made great strides in addressing devastating diseases that were once commonplace. Our nation invested in drinking water treatment plants and waste water treatment facilities and these facilities are now essential parts of the public health infrastructure of the nation.

Despite these great advances, we still have more work to do to address diseases, such as cancer and birth defects, that take the lives of our children and family members.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, from 1975 to 2007, rates of childhood cancer have increased by more than 20 percent.

According to the National Cancer Institute, leukemia is the most common form of childhood cancer, accounting for 20 percent of the incidences. The greatest number of childhood cancers occurs during infancy -- the first year of life.

Our youngest and most vulnerable in society should not have to shoulder such a devastating burden.

When the same disease impacts a family, neighborhood or community, people are rightly concerned that a common factor is the cause. Scientists do not always know the exact cause of cancer, but two often discussed factors are genetics and environmental causes.

Just last year, the President's Cancer Panel said that it "particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated." I ask unanimous consent to enter the report from the President panel into the record.

The Panel urged the federal government "to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation's productivity, and devastate American lives."

Clearly, efforts to address diseases such as childhood cancer and birth defects deserve focused, coordinated and effective action at every level of government.

That is why I introduced S. 76, the "Strengthening Protections for Children and Communities From Disease Clusters Act". I am glad that Senator Crapo is a co-sponsor of this bill.

S. 76 is designed to increase coordination, transparency, accountability when federal agencies work to investigate and address potential disease clusters. It also is designed to give people in communities a seat at the table to better understand such investigations.

This bill will not by itself end disease clusters, but it is an important step in helping our communities effectively investigate and address devastating diseases that still impact our families, neighborhoods and society.

The critical importance of our bill is this: If by working together we can establish the cause of a disease cluster, we can take the steps to end the problem and not waste precious time when so much is at stake -- the health of our families


Note: To view flash video of Trevor Schaefer's testimony, please visit