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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

American Public Health Association 125th Annual Meeting-Indianapolis, Indiana

11/13/1997
                Carol M. Browner, Administrator
              U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                               
                 Remarks Prepared for Delivery
                American Public Health Association
                       125th Annual Meeting
                      Indianapolis, Indiana
                        November 13, 1997


     Thank you, Dr. Akhter.  I am delighted to join you and Dr. Levy  and Dr. Young for the closing session of what I hear has been a very productive conference.  I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to all of today's award winners -- particularly Congressman Waxman, whose leadership has been critical on so many public health issues.  He is a friend and a long time supporter of the work we do at EPA.  We are all a little healthier thanks to Henry Waxman.

     Let me also offer a very special congratulations to the American Public Health Association for 125 years of steady leadership in the struggle to make our country a safer, healthier place for all of our citizens.

     It is not an exaggeration to say that much of the credit for the quality of life we enjoy today is due to the efforts and the activism -- year after year after year -- of the American Public Health Association and the public health officials and practitioners it represents.

     Your work in pollution control goes back to the earliest years of APHA's history.  And we have come a long, long way since then -- with some of the most dramatic progress coming over the past quarter-century.  On behalf of the American people, I want to thank you for all you have done to improve public health and environmental quality in our country.

     This, of course, goes right to the very core of EPA's mission -- and we have been proud to work with you on some of the most important public health issues of our day.

     When the subject of "environmental protection" comes up, many people think about protecting the natural beauty of their favorite places -- those special, idyllic places where they relax or enjoy their vacations.

    That is an important goal, to be sure.  But our mission at EPA is about much more than that.  It is about ensuring that Americans have a safe and healthy environment where they live and where they work, as well.   It is about protecting the air they breathe, the water they drink and the land on which they live.  It is about the health of our communities.  It is about the health of our nation.

     Certainly, over the past quarter-century, with your help, this nation has made great progress in protecting public health and the environment -- in every community.

     We no longer have rivers catching on fire.  Bodies of water that used to be virtual sewage dumps are now vital, thriving places where people swim and fish.  Others are on the rebound.

     Toxic pollution from industry has declined steadily.  Fewer children are poisoned by lead -- because we took the measures necessary to reduce the threat of lead in the environment.

     Our skies are cleaner.  In city after city, the air is healthier to breathe.  And, in the years ahead, we will continue to make progress on clean air because this President has showed the courage to stand up for the public interest and ensure that our air quality standards are strong enough to protect the public health.

     The new, updated air quality standards that the President announced this summer represent the most important step this nation has taken in a generation to protect the American people -- and especially our children -- from the health hazards of air pollution.

     Together, they will protect 125 million Americans, including 35 million children, from the adverse health effects of breathing polluted air.  They will prevent approximately 15,000 premature deaths, about 350,000 cases of aggravated asthma and nearly a million cases of significantly decreased lung function in children.

     This is real public health protection.  And I want to thank everyone at APHA for your support of these standards as a sound investment in the health of all Americans and in the nation's future.

     But the job is not done.  We cannot rest.  We still face tremendous environmental and public health challenges.

     To met those challenges, this administration is forging a new generation of environmental and public health protection -- standards that are second to none, vigorous enforcement of those standards, and giving the American people the tools to reduce pollution in their own communities.
     
     We believe that one of the most important tools we can give people is the "right-to-know" about toxic pollutants in their own neighborhoods -- so they can take steps to protect themselves and their families, and so they can take action to reduce pollution in their communities.

     Earlier this year, President Clinton issued new rules expanding the right of Americans to know about toxic substances that are being released into their air, land and water.  More industries are being added to those required to report their toxic releases.  More information is being required from thousands of industrial facilities.

     We believe that people know what's best for their own communities and, given the facts, they themselves can help to determine what is best to protect their health and environment.

     In fact, 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 began, industrial facilities required to report their toxic releases have reduced their emissions by almost half.

     Armed with information, Americans are accepting their responsibility to join together -- with businesses large and small, with schools, community groups and all levels of government -- to address their local environmental challenges and build a brighter, safer, healthier world to pass on to their children.

     We are convinced that these kinds of partnerships will lead the way to more progress on public health and the environment in the years ahead.

     Certainly, they will play a vitally important role as we seek to address the challenge of global warming.    

     Recently, the President announced his strategy for asserting America's leadership in the global effort to reduce the "greenhouse gases" that the vast majority of the world's climate experts have concluded are causing the gradual warming of the Earth's surface temperatures.

     These scientists -- more than 2,000 of them from all over the world -- are telling us that global warming is real and that it is not just a climatic issue that is of concern only to those who live in low-lying areas, like my hometown of Miami, but with it will come real public health consequences.  More frequent and more intense heat waves -- and thousands more heat-related deaths -- with severe droughts and floods.  Tropical diseases like malaria will expand their range.  Agriculture production and, therefore, food supplies will suffer.

     This will be our legacy to our children if we do not take the steps to reduce greenhouse gases.  Every pound, every ton of carbon we put in the air today will be there 50 years from now.  That will be the legacy for our children if we do not act.

     President Clinton is committed to taking responsible action to confront this threat.  When the nations of the world meet in Japan this December to seek a global agreement on this issue, the United States, for the first time, is committed to securing realistic and binding agreements.

     Unfortunately, those who oppose action are on the march.  Some in industry are funding a massive disinformation campaign attempting to portray the fight against global warming as a loser
for America.  They warn of dire consequences.  In the words of one campaign sponsor: "All pain and no gain."

     Let's face it, on almost any effort to protect public health for future generations, are
always going to be those who say:   "It can't be done."  "It's too expensive."  "Our economy will suffer." Or, "we simply cannot afford to stop polluting our air, to stop dumping raw sewage and industrial waste into our waters, or to properly and safely dispose of hazardous waste."

     But to say those things is to ignore America's history of setting tough standards -- and ultimately surpassing them with flying colors.

     Go back and check the record.  Whenever this nation has taken action to improve public health -- whenever we've passed landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act -- whenever we've taken measures to achieve the goals set forth in these laws -- whenever we have done the right thing and put the public health first -- we have done so despite warnings of economic disaster.

     Over the past 25 years -- while these actions have brought enormous benefits to our nation, the health of our fellow citizens and our quality of life -- all those dire economic predictions have never come to pass.  Why?  Because many in industry ultimately rise to the challenge -- finding cheaper, more innovative ways of meeting standards -- and lowering their pollution.

     While some have spread fears of the economic consequences, many other businesses have pressed forward, done the right thing, and worked very hard to comply with standards that they knew were good for the country.

     And, during this time of environmental progress -- during the past quarter-century -- America's gross domestic product has nearly doubled.

     Can we continue to do it?  Of course we can.

     And we must continue, because many of today's most pressing public health challenges are those that involve the most vulnerable among us -- our 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.

    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 blood.

     We need to know more about whether environmental factors are in any way responsible for the alarming increase in new incidences of childhood cancer.

     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.

     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.

     To this end, President Clinton has directed all federal agencies to make protection of children's health and safety a high priority in everything they do.

     That is something that EPA 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.
     
     In addition, 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.

     We are 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 -- and I have appointed one of America's most distinguished public health officials, Dr. Phil Landrigan, to run it.

     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 high hopes for this new office.

     But our highest hopes rest with you in the public health community.

     We need you to continue to study, to perform research, to teach, and to set and recommend standards.  Most importantly, we need you, as an organization, to continue to stand tall as an advocate for improved public health for all.

     As you do that, let me assure you that this administration is ready to walk that next mile with you toward a brighter, safer, healthier future for our children and for future generations.

     Thank you for your support and all you do each and every day for the public's health.