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CRITIQUES OF CHILDREN'S ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH EFFORTS

(See endnotes 61, 62)

Federal Level

Government Accountability Office

The Government Accountability Office in September 2008 reported that the EPA was failing on children’s environmental health issues. The EPA had rolled back or not acted on standards for dangerous chemicals, such as perchlorate, mercury, and lead. The advisory committee, which was made up of public health officials from government, non-profit organizations, academia, industry, and healthcare organizations, had met more than 30 times in 10 years, but the EPA rarely sought out the committee’s advice and recommendations in developing regulations, guidance, and policies concerning children’s health, despite the fact that the advisory committee had sent over 600 recommendations for EPA action. Further, the last time cabinet-level officials met to discuss children’s environmental health issues was in October 2001. The task force expired in 2005 and there was no further mandate to coordinate the federal response to children’s health issues. The task force no longer reported its results to the President. The Government Accountability Office in a report dated January 2010 to several congressmen recommended improvements to help the EPA protect children and the EPA agreed to implement them. The Government Accountability Office also suggested that Congress consider reinstating the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee.

Environment and Public Health Committee of the United States Senate On March 17, 2010, Dr. Cynthia Bearer, Children’s Environmental Health Network Board Chairperson, testified before the Environment and Public Health Committee of the United States Senate. She urged the committee to include the basic concepts of pediatric environmental health into all of its policies and programs. She said that today’s standards, regulations, and guidelines are based on the adult healthy male, rather than considering the unique problems of children. The US EPA regulates thousands of industrial chemicals through the Toxic Substances Control Act. She recommended that the Toxic Substances Control Act be replaced with a new statute that provided for:

  • • Health protection of children, pregnant women, the fetus, nursing women, and women of childbearing age, as a basis for regulating chemicals
  • • Strong safety standards, which protect children’s health and other vulnerable populations
  • • Making industry responsible for demonstrating the safety of a chemical
  • • Protecting children from chemicals that interfere with their hormone systems
  • • Protecting children from new technologies such as nanotechnology

Dr. Bearer urged the committee to focus on the home environment including the pollutants and products to which children are exposed. Further, millions of preschoolers go to childcare centers for at least 40 hours a week and the centers need a substantial amount of monitoring. During the course of a week, 54 million children and about 7 million adults spend a substantial time in the school environment and therefore this environment needs to be closely monitored. Particular attention must be given to the many sources of indoor air pollution which can affect the child.

Dr. Bearer commended the new EPA administrator for improving the EPA’s response to children’s environmental health issues, including protections for farm workers and farm worker children from pesticides and improving pesticide labeling. Also, there has been an increased effort in improving the environmental health of schools. Dr. Bearer emphasized that there had been a tremendous loss in the abandonment of Presidential Executive Order 13045. She urged the committee to pass a law reestablishing the interagency task force, composed of agencies including the EPA, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, and others, that worked effectively on children’s environmental health and safety issues like asthma, lead poisoning, childhood cancer, injury prevention, etc.

Also, on March 17, 2010, John B. Stephenson, Director, Natural Resources and Development, Government Accountability Office, reaffirmed Dr. Bearer’s testimony and added that the Government Accountability Office was issuing a series of recommendations to the EPA in a special report that would help the EPA re-issue a child-focused strategy with specific goals, objectives, and targets. It asked the EPA Administrator to maximize the agency’s concerns in all areas of environmental health hazards related to children. The report also urged Congress to establish, in law, President Clinton’s Executive Order on children’s environmental health.

 
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