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Children's Health Protection

Transcript of Podcast: Interview with Steve Owens, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances

Listen to the podcast (MP3, 5MB).

E: Ever think about who works to reduce lead and mercury hazards? How about who evaluates existing chemicals and their risks to prevent or reduce pollution before they get into the environment? Well, actually it all happens in EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. Today I am talking with Steve Owens, Assistant Administrator for OPPTS. He is responsible for managing the Nation's regulatory and scientific programs on pesticides and industrial chemicals and he oversees many pollution prevention programs. Previously, Steve served as Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. While there Steve made protecting children from toxic exposures a top priority and helped launch Arizona's Children's Environmental Health Project and also established an Office of Children's Environmental Health. Today we'll talk about children’s health issues in his department at the EPA.

E: So there is a lot that goes on in your office but what kinds of things does your office do to protect children from environmental hazards?

S: Well Administrator Jackson has made the protection of children a high priority here at EPA under her administration. And when I was the director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality under Governor Napolitano children's health was a top priority for me. And at the Arizona DEQ I established an office of children's environmental health there and since I’ve been at EPA here as the assistant administrator for the office of Prevention, Pesticides, and toxic substances we put a top priority of working very closely with the children's health office here at EPA to address a number of things that go on here at OPPTS. You know for example we are working on an enhanced program to toughen up and beef up our work on protecting children from exposure to toxic chemicals including everything from mercury to lead. We’re also looking at ways to strengthen our pesticide oversight as we develop new rules, paying particular attention to the ways that pesticides can affect the children and the ways that children can be exposed to pesticides. So there's a wide variety of activities going on throughout EPA especially here at OPPTS to make sure that children’s health is taken into account and that the actions that we're taking will protect kids from exposure to toxic substances and other things that can adversely affect them.

E: How can you tell if a child has been exposed to lead?

S: A very simple blood test can show whether a child has been exposed to lead and whether there's potentially high levels of lead in their body.

E: So another toxic substance is mercury. How can parents reduce a child's contact with mercury?

S: Well one of the ways that kids come into contact with mercury most commonly is at their schools. There are still a lot of mercury containing products at schools, in the chem labs for example. They may have devices that contain mercury, thermometers and things like that. And we try to work very closely with schools to ensure that as many of those mercury containing devices are taken out of the school context so that children can't be exposed to them. And elevated levels of mercury is through the ingestion of seafood through eating seafood with fish that may have high levels of mercury in the fish tissue.

E: What is integrated pest management and how can this affect children's health in a positive way?

S: Well integrated pest management which is abbreviated as IPM is a terrific way to reduce overall pesticide use and especially to reduce children’s exposure to pesticides. What IPM basically says is that you can take steps at your school and in other areas where children are present to reduce things that cause pests, whether it's insects or rodents or whatever, to be present in the first place. That can be everything from making sure that, for example, in a school context where kids don't have candy wrappers you know in their desk drawers or leave food lying around or have other things like that that might attract the pest. When you close the door at the school that there are access points where insects and other pests can come underneath the doors in their classrooms or even into your home, that you block those off so that when doors are closed there’s not access ways. There's just a wide variety of steps that you can take, all of which would fall under the rubric of integrated pest management to reduce pests in the first instance so you don’t have to use pesticides after the fact to try to deal with an infestation that may occur.

E: At the EPA, the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances has a mission to protect you, your family, and the environment from potential risks. For topics discussed in today's podcast you can visit www.epa.gov/oppts to learn more.

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