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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

EPA Conference on Preventable Causes of Childhood Cancer Arlington, VA

09/15/1997
               Carol M. Browner, Administrator
             U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                               
                Remarks Prepared for Delivery
   EPA Conference on Preventable Causes of Childhood Cancer
                        Arlington, VA
                      September 15, 1997



     Thank you, Ramona Trovato, for that introduction.  And my deepest thanks to all of you
for being here.


     We are especially grateful to Congressman Jim Moran and Congresswoman Nita Lowey
for their participation in this conference.  As you know from his address this morning,
Congressman Moran is a dedicated and impassioned leader on environmental health issues, and
we are proud to be working with him and with Senator Boxer on their legislation to help protect
children from environmental health threats.


     Congresswoman Lowey, from whom you will hear tomorrow, has been a leading advocate
of biomedical and breast cancer research.  She authored the language in the 1996 Safe Drinking
Water Act directing EPA to develop a screening program for chemicals that may mimic natural
hormones and lead to breast, prostate and testicular cancers.


     And I want to thank Tessa Hill for her moving presentation this morning, as well as for her
ongoing work with "Kids for Saving Earth," the organization started by her late son.  She is a real
leader in the struggle for a better world, and we are honored to have her with us today.


     Finally, let me thank Dr. Philip Landrigan and Dr. Steven Galson for their excellent work
in planning for this conference, and for their leadership roles on the issue of children's
environmental health.


     We are here today on a matter of critical importance to future generations of Americans.
Here we have gathered some of the nation's most talented, capable and dedicated health experts
for the purpose of crafting a battle plan -- a national research agenda -- on preventable childhood
cancers.

    Our mission -- our imperative -- is to help make this world  better, safer and more healthy
one for our children and their children to come.


     Before we can do it -- before we can reduce the causes of preventable childhood cancer --
we've got to know more about the enemy we face.  We've got to know more about the possible
links between the environment and the alarming increase in new incidence of childhood cancer.


     That is why you are here today.  To advance the process of developing that strategy so we
can get on with the task of protecting future generations.


     It is my hope that we can pattern ourselves after the medical community's great strides in
detecting and treating and curing childhood cancers.


     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.


     In the past two decades, we have seen higher rates of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in
children, higher rates of a type of brain cancer in children, and higher rates of Wilms' tumor of the
kidney.  Testicular cancer in young men is up by nearly 70 percent.


     And we don't know exactly why.

     Many leading health experts suspect that toxins found in our environment may very well
play a role in the growing incidence of certain childhood cancers.


     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.  We have a
responsibility -- a duty to our kids, a duty to future generations -- to explore and investigate and
know everything we can about the potential links between cancer and environmental toxins.

     It is your work  -- your research, your findings, your outreach -- that will help us get the
job done.   We're counting on you -- to identify and expand research opportunities.  And we
intend to use the agenda you create here for waging the battle against preventable cancer in
children.


     This administration is determined to support you in any way we can -- because protecting
the health of our children is one of our highest priorities.


     At EPA, we're doing all that we can to elevate this cause -- in everything we do.

     For example, 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.


     We have strengthened the national air quality standards for smog and for soot -- to a level
that 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
local facilities.


     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, as I'm sure you know, President Clinton recently
directed all federal agencies to make protection of children's health and safety a high priority in
everything they do.  Secretary Shalala and I will chair an Interagency Task Force, beginning in
October, which will establish a research agenda for all federal agencies -- and we expect that your
work here this week will help drive that agenda.  


     Making children our first priority is something EPA began doing a couple of years ago,
when we began 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 are also seeking to provide the funding necessary to make this a top priority -- in fact,
a five-fold increase for children's issues over Fiscal Year 1996.


     We will use that funding to increase and 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, this 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.


     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
protect everyone.


     It is a critical mission.  Thank you for being part of it.  And the very best to all of you.

     Thank you.