Opening Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Children's Health
"State of Research on Potential Environmental Health Factors with Autism and Related Neurodevelopment Disorders"
August 3, 2010

(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

Today's hearing will look at the latest research on potential environmental factors that may harm the health of our children -- including their ability to think, learn, and interact with families and other people in society.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Environmental Health Science fund a variety of studies on neurodevelopmental disorders, including on autism. I would like to extend a special welcome to Professor Issac N. Pessah from the University of California at Davis's MIND Institute, who will testify on the second panel. The MIND Institute receives federal agency funding to conduct research on these important issues.

While science is still working to identify the cause of autism, exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment is one crucial area of inquiry. The children's center at UC Davis is conducting research on environmental health factors with autism, including chemicals' potential impacts on brain development, on complex social behaviors, and on immune system function.

Their research is especially important now, since some data indicates that the occurrence of autism is growing. The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates that on average 1 in 110 children in the U.S has symptoms of "autism spectrum disorder" or "ASD".

In California, state agencies are reporting an apparent rise in the incidence of ASD. In its most recent report, the California Department of Developmental Services found that from 1997 to 2007, "while the total number of people served [by the Department]...increased 56 percent, the number of people with autism...grew 321 percent...."

Autism and other neurodevelopment disorders can affect entire families and have financial and other effects throughout society. The federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) estimates that "autism spectrum disorder's cost to society are currently between $35 to $90 billion annually."

Today's hearing focuses on research, but there are a number of other ways this Committee is working to protect children and families from toxic chemicals in the environment.

For example, communities need help dealing with the impacts of autism and other disorders that may have connections to environmental health. When these disorders appear in concentrations or clusters, it may be an indication that environmental factors are playing a role in making people sick.

That is why I am introducing legislation to ensure that federal agencies are coordinating their efforts on disease clusters as effectively as possible, and that the resources are there to help the people in areas that need them. This will include making sure communities that suspect they have a cluster of disease can call on the government to investigate and address their concerns. My bill will also require EPA to upgrade their data tracking systems to strengthen the federal government's ability to investigate disease clusters.

In addition, The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, which Senator Lautenberg introduced earlier this year, would take an important step toward testing and identifying chemicals that could harm our children before they come to market, instead of having to deal with the consequences after the fact. The bill would reform and strengthen the way the federal government regulates toxic chemicals, by requiring the chemical industry to prove that their chemicals are safe to use.

Today's hearing will help inform our efforts to protect America's children from environmental dangers. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about ways we can ensure that research continues to provide parents and policy-makers with information we need to protect the health of our children and our families.

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