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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Region II Asthma Summit, New York, New York

10/12/2001
Remarks for Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
Region II Asthma Summit
New York, New York

October 12, 2001



Thank you, Maureen (O’Neill), for that introduction.

I am pleased to be with you today, especially here at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Historically, America has looked to the people of New York as trend-setters and trailblazers. This has never been more true than during this crisis, as we have seen the example of heroism and patriotism set here in New York spread across the country and around the world. All New Yorkers – but especially doctors and care givers such as yourselves – have provided the country with this example and we are extremely appreciative.

As many struggle to return to business as usual, the fact that you have been able to do so here and throughout this region is one more testament to the strength of character found in this great city. That is why I am proud to be with you today to continue the important work we have to do on asthma.

Perhaps there is no better time to discuss the growing asthma problem. The topic of conversation in coffee shops and office hallways is, “what’s next?”. The life of an asthmatic is much the same – constantly bracing for the next attack. And the theme of our campaign mirrors the widely held sentiment across the country today – one attack is one too many.

I do believe that one attack is too many – which makes the fact that 17 million people in America are suffering from asthma all the more alarming. This epidemic is especially concerning for children. Asthma is the leading chronic illness in children and the cause of 10 million missed school days each year. EPA is highlighting our commitment to this vulnerable population by marking Children’s Health Month with a variety of activities and events to raise awareness for issues such as asthma.

While there is no known cure for asthma – it can be prevented. There is widespread consensus that appropriate medical care along with measures to control asthma triggers in the indoor and outdoor environments of sufferers can substantially reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

That is why the EPA has joined in the battle against asthma – especially in the important area of outreach and education. The National Academy of Sciences published a report last year that linked several indoor air exposures – including secondhand smoke and dust mites – to asthma attacks. Outdoor air pollutants such as particulate matter, Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) have also been found to contribute to asthma.

A new EPA measure to reduce emissions of air pollutants from diesel trucks and buses will help prevent hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks in children each year. We have also helped develop an innovative partnership in the South Bronx which brought truck electrification units to the Hunts Point Market Truck Stop. This project will reduce harmful emissions in an area of the city where the asthma rate among children is four times the national average.

In fact, some of the best progress nationwide on reducing asthma has occurred right here in New York. Asthma hospitalization rates for children have dropped in the city by 35 percent since 1997. And recently the Chancellor of the New York City Schools and the Board of Education have directed the nearly 1200 schools in this district to implement the “Tools for Schools” program that helps schools improve air conditions in their buildings for students with asthma.

EPA’s primary focus, however, has been on communicating the critical message of proper environmental management to parents, school personnel, nurses, doctors, and all persons with asthma. Most of you in this room already understand that environmental management should be part of an overall effort to minimize the effects of asthma. But too many physicians rely solely on medical solutions and too many parents use trips to the emergency room – 600,000 of them each year – as their first line of defense in the fight against their children’s asthma.

The purpose of our campaign is to shift that paradigm so that parents and doctors can prevent attacks with medical and environmental precautions – and save trips to the ER for Thursday night television.

The centerpiece of this effort has been a partnership with The Ad Council. Together, we launched an aggressive nationwide campaign to educate parents about ways they can help prevent their children’s asthma attacks. Ayer Advertising Agency volunteered countless hours to help produce a campaign that is informative and resonates with all Americans who are touched by this disease.

We did extensive research with affected families and convened an expert advisory panel to be sure we exhausted every avenue of information – especially that which focused on at-risk Latino populations in inner cities. The campaign was designed to serve these groups specifically – which is why we have all of our materials in English and Spanish.

In the end, the creative concept for this campaign came directly from those who know it best – the children. They said that asthma makes them feel like a fish with no water. It is a powerful image that you can see behind me – and hopefully have seen on bus shelters and billboards, in newspapers, and on the television.

For those who have not yet seen the Childhood Asthma Goldfish Campaign – lets take a look at the video tape now. It also includes a news story from one of our greatest partners in this effort, WNBC. [video will be shown]
This superb campaign is the work of a great partnership between the EPA, The Ad Council, and Ayer, and I think you can understand why it has been so successful after just six months. In part it has been because of the leadership of those two organizations. Peggy Conlon, President of the Ad Council is with us today and I would like to thank her for her vision and hard work.

Of course, the advertisements speak for themselves, which is why we have received thousands of phone calls to our toll-free hotline and already logged 300,000 visits to our website. That will translate into fewer trips to the ER, fewer missed school days, and fewer asthma attacks in general.

Having the Ad Council logo on our PSA’s has also helped strengthen their impact – it is like having the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Perhaps more important, their involvement has also helped leverage additional participation from the community. The media has played a crucial role in assuring the success of our mission by donating nearly $15 million worth of free exposure. That includes prime time commercial slots, radio air time, billboard space, and display areas in bus stations across the country.

Media outlets donate time because they are committed to their community and we will continue to rely on these partners as we attempt to reach every family in need. That is why we are so thankful to those who have stepped up to the plate in a significant way to support this issue.

One station that has gone beyond the call of duty is WNBC right here in New York City. Asthma is an important issue for their primarily urban viewership, so WNBC declared a special Asthma Awareness Week last March that included excellent reporting like the story we saw a minute ago. In addition, WNBC broadcast the PSA during a number of prime time shows and gave the piece standard placement on the popular Today Show.

A company’s generosity, such as that displayed by WNBC, begins with leadership. I would like to invite Dennis Swanson to join me – he is President and General Manager of WNBC. On behalf of the EPA, I would like to present you with this plaque of special recognition for your outstanding community service. You are a model for all of us, and your work, and that of your station, will undoubtedly help countless families here in New York as we fight this disease together.

We are appreciative, but not the least bit surprised. Yours is a spirit that defines this city, and this great country. When put to work for the environment, I am confident that we can leave our children and grandchildren a cleaner and healthier place to grow up.

Thank you.