Speeches By EPA Administrator
Harvard School of Public Health Boston, Massachusetts11/01/1997
| Carol M. Browner, Administrator|
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Harvard School of Public Health
November 1, 1997
It is a special pleasure to be here at the Harvard School of Public Health, and to have the
opportunity to participate in this symposium.
I want to commend everyone associated with this school for its long history of excellence
in environmental health research.
The work you have done here -- and the work you continue to do every day -- is
tremendously important to our work at EPA and, most importantly, the fulfillment of our mission
to protect the public health.
As many of you know, the landmark air pollution studies conducted by Doctors Dockery
and Schwartz played an important role in President Clinton's recent decision to strengthen the
nation's air quality standards.
These outstanding scientific studies -- along with those of many, many other top scientists
from across the nation -- provided convincing evidence that our air quality standards needed to be
strengthened in order to ensure that the public health is adequately protected.
Th President's decision will ensure that this nation continues to make progress on cleaner
air -- and to ensure that our children have healthy air to breathe in their communities.
So I want to thank the Harvard School of Public Health for its national leadership on
environmental health and urge you to continue your good work.
It is clear to me that -- given this symposium and the recent studies conducted here on
passive smoking and water turbidity -- that the school is well-positioned to extend its leadership
to the area of children's environmental health. And that is very good news, indeed.
Because we have a common mission -- and by "we" I mean our fellow citizens, our
communities, research institutions and government agencies -- to make this world better, safer
and more healthy one for our children and their children to come.
To be sure, protecting the health of our children is one of the Clinton/Gore
administration's highest priorities. And protecting our environment is critical to our children's
health. So it is your work -- your research, your findings, your outreach -- that will help us get
the job done. We're counting on you -- to conduct the research we need to do our work, and to
train health professionals in the recognition and treatment of environmentally-related diseases
Four years ago, when President Clinton and I came to Washington, we called on
Americans from all walks of life to join us -- not only in building on the successes of the past, but
to forge a new generation of environmental protection -- one that is right for the 21st Century.
Thus far, we have made a great deal of progress in protecting the public health and the air
we breathe, the water we drink and the land on which we live.
But, clearly, we must do more. The job is not done.
Despite all the progress we have made in environmental protection, there is still great
cause for concern about what is happening to America's children.
The world that our children are born into now includes tens of thousands of new
chemicals that simply were not around just a few decades ago -- substances that are present in our
air, in our water, in our homes, on our foods.
And we all know that children, because their bodies and minds are still developing, are
more susceptible than adults to environmental threats. Proportionate to body weight, they eat
more of certain types of food, drink more fluids, and breathe more air than adults do. The young
ones crawl on the floor or the ground -- the older ones spend a lot of time outdoors -- and, thus,
children are often more exposed to potentially harmful pollutants in the soil, around the house or
in the air.
There is the possibility that something -- or, or more likely, some things -- in the
environment are causing greater numbers of children to become seriously ill.
Asthma deaths among children and young people more than doubled between 1980 and
1993. Asthma is now the leading cause of hospital admissions for children.
Despite the welcome news that lead poisoning in children continues its steady decline,
there are still nearly a million kids under five years of age who suffer high levels of lead in their
We need to know more about whether environmental factors are in any way responsible
for the alarming increase in new incidences of childhood cancer.
The good news is that the death rate from childhood cancer has declined dramatically.
But an equally dramatic rise in the overall number of kids who get cancer threatens to
overshadow the gains we have made.
For the past two decades, the incidence of new cancer cases in children has been rising at
the rate of one percent each year.
And we don't know exactly why. But many leading health experts believe that
environmental factors very well may play a role.
We have a responsibility -- a duty to our kids, a duty to future generations -- to explore
and investigate and determine everything we can about any potential links between children's
health and the environment.
That is one of the primary reasons why our administration is determined to make
protecting children a top priority in everything we do.
For example, simple common sense tells us that no child should have to grow up near a
hazardous waste dump.
That is why we have devoted the energy and the resources to cleaning up more Superfund
sites over the past four years than in the previous 12 years combined. And that's why President
Clinton wants to re-double the pace and rid our communities of another 500 toxic waste dumps
by the year 2000.
Our new air quality standards for smog and for soot -- the standards that I mentioned a
moment ago -- will protect millions more children from the harmful effects of these pollutants.
Indeed, important new research on the effects of smog and soot on children has helped
demonstrate that these standards needed to be updated -- that the old standards left too many
people, and too many children, at risk.
Thanks to President Clinton's efforts, we have new legislation on the books to protect and
improve the safety of our drinking water, as well as a new food safety law that creates a single,
more protective and comprehensive, health-based, child-driven standard for all pesticides.
This administration has also taken strong action to expand the public's "right-to-know"
about toxic pollutants in their own neighborhoods. More industries are being added to those
required to report their toxic releases. More information is being required from thousands of
We are determined to see that this important information gets into the hands of the
American people -- so they can take steps to protect themselves and their children, and so they
can take action to reduce pollution in their communities. We have found that putting information
into the hands of citizens is one of the most effective things we can do to reduce harmful
pollution. Since 1988, when this reporting was first required, industrial facilities required to
report their toxic releases have reduced their emissions by almost half.
In addition to these major initiatives, President Clinton recently directed all federal
agencies to make protection of children's health and safety a high priority in everything they do.
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and I are currently chairing an Interagency
Task Force that is establishing a research agenda for all federal agencies
For EPA's part, making children our first priority is something we began doing a couple of
years ago, when we started taking steps to ensure that an awareness of children's unique
susceptibility will guide every action we take to protect public health and our environment.
Every time we set public health and environmental standards, EPA takes into account the
unique vulnerabilities of children, to ensure that all standards protect children first. We are also
reviewing our most significant existing standards to ensure that they protect children.
But that is only part of our commitment to the agenda that followed last year's release of
EPA's major report on environmental health threats faced by children.
We have been seeking more funding to expand our commitment to a variety of new
initiatives aimed at assessing environmental health threats to our children, furthering our
understanding of the unique risks they face, and helping propose new ways to protect them.
I'm talking about new research on air pollutants, water pollutants and pesticides and their
effects on children, new efforts to control lead exposure, and new testing guidelines that routinely
incorporate children's issues into EPA's risk assessments. I'm talking about moving beyond the
chemical-by-chemical approaches of the past and, instead, looking at a child's total cumulative
risk from all exposures to toxic chemicals.
And EPA is undertaking sweeping efforts to increase our education of health
professionals, policy makers, parents and teachers about timely and important topics in children's
environmental health -- topics such as overexposure to the sun, how to deal with childhood
asthma, and how to rid homes of lead paint and other dangerous substances.
To coordinate these activities, and to provide a more comprehensive, child-driven focus to
EPA's rulemakings and research activities, we have established EPA's Office of Children's Health
Protection. This office will be a clearinghouse for research. It will help link the best, current
science with the policy process. It will seek to coordinate scientific research and stimulate
cooperative efforts among all who are concerned with children's environmental health. And it
will promote greater public awareness of this vital issue.
We have nothing but the highest hopes for this new office.
In February, I announced the establishment of the National Centers of Excellence on
Children's Environmental Health at established medical or academic institutions. These centers
will focus on the possible environmental causes of a variety of children's illnesses and disorders.
I am delighted to tell you that, last month, EPA and the Department of Health and Human
Services began accepting applications for six centers to be funded in the initial year at a total of
$10 million. We're very proud of the progress that is happening on this important initiative.
And I understand that the Harvard School of Public Health may be submitting a grant
proposal to become one of those centers.
So, as you can see, a lot of exciting things are happening in the area of children's
environmental health. But I want to strongly emphasize how important it is that the research
community be an active partner in these endeavors. We need you -- we need your talents and
your energy and your commitment to a safe and healthy world for our children.
You have an important role to play in this new generation of environmental protection --
protection that emphasizes the newest generation of Americans. Everything we do to make our
air, water and soil cleaner and more healthy, we do for them.
And the dividend for the rest of society is that by protecting those who are among the
most vulnerable in our society -- by ensuring that our kids are safe, by putting them first -- we
It is a critical mission. Thank you for being part of it. Thank you for your pioneering
work. And the very best of luck to all of you.