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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund Advocacy Training Conference

05/04/1998
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund
Advocacy Training Conference

                         Washington, D.C.
                           May 4, 1998


     I want to thank Fran Visco for inviting me to join you here today.  I feel deeply honored.  As a member of the Clinton Administration and as a woman, a daughter, a sister, a mother -- I want to take this opportunity to thank the National Breast Cancer Coalition for your smart, persistent, and effective work.

     On behalf of the thousands and thousands of families whose lives have been touched by breast cancer, you have awakened this nation and moved us to act. Thank you.

     I am speaking to you today because while we do not know for sure why breast cancer is on the rise in this country, many scientists believe that toxic chemicals in our environment may be significant contributing factors.  

     The Clinton Administration believes it is our solemn duty -- first, to seek the truth about environmental pollution and its adverse health effects; and second, to protect the public's health by ensuring that the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we live on, are safe.

     Over the past 25 years, this nation has made great progress in protecting public health and the environment.

     We no longer have rivers catching on fire.  Toxic pollution from industry has declined.  Our skies are cleaner.  

     But the job is not done.  We cannot rest.  The rising incidence of breast cancer is one of the many public health challenges that face us today.

     To meet 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.
          When I became the head of the EPA, I learned, much to my surprise, that all too often, this country's environmental standards had been based on the average 154-pound man.  

     How much pesticide exposure was safe for a human being, what should be the cutoff point for drinking water contamination, how much air pollution was too much -- all of these standards were based on the health effects for that average adult male.  

     And if you asked, Do these standards adequately protect the average woman, the average child?  A pregnant woman?  An elderly person?  -- the answer was simply, We don't know.

     Well, that's not good enough.  That is simply not enough to protect the women, the children, the families, and the  communities of this country.

     And so, this Administration made a fundamental change in how we approach health research and the protection of public health.

     Today, when we set safety standards -- for drinking water, for eating fish, for pesticides -- we use a very different measure.  Today, we require that those standards must be adequate to protect not just the 154-pound man but all people, including women, including children, including any group with a special sensitivity.

     That is a very significant change and a tremendous victory for women's health.

     We expanded research into breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and other serious diseases that afflict women.  

     And in so doing, we put an emphasis not just on early diagnosis and treatment but on the root causes of disease.  On prevention of disease.  Because prevention in the first instance must be our most important goal.

     But research is not enough.  And so we have moved aggressively -- not just to study -- but to reduce those environmental toxins that may cause breast cancer, ovarian

cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, and other harmful health effects.

     This Administration has cleaned up more Superfund toxic waste sites in the last four years than in the entire 12 year history of the program.  In the next four years, we will double the pace of clean-ups.  

     We reduced toxic pollution from chemical plants by nearly 90 percent.  We took tough action against the burning of medical waste and other hazardous waste -- controlling 90% of the known sources of dioxin that accumulates in human tissue and in breast milk.  


     I have taken it as my personal mission to reduce DDT and PCB emissions, not just in this country but beyond our borders.  I was very, very pleased when we were able to reach an agreement with Canada and Europe to phase down these pollutants.  And just two months from now, global negotiations will begin, to protect humanity from these persistent toxic chemicals -- not just in the U.S., but throughout the world.

     The new air quality standards for smog and soot that the President announced last summer represent the most important step this nation has taken in a generation to protect the American people from air pollution.

     These standards will protect 125 million Americans, including 35 million children, from the adverse health effects of breathing polluted air.

     We set tough standards to keep pollution out of our rivers, lakes, beaches, and streams; to protect our drinking water; to protect the quality of our food by outlawing dangerous pesticides.  

     I want to tell you something I think is truly remarkable.  

     This past summer, Congress passed and the President signed a new Food Quality Protection Act and a new Safe Drinking Water Act.  And in both of those laws, we worked with Congress to put in a provision to require the testing of chemicals that disrupt the human endocrine system -- chemicals that change how our hormones function.

     These endocrine disruptor chemicals, if they appear in pesticides in our food and in chemicals in our drinking water, could be linked to breast cancer and other diseases.

     Let me tell you, this is the first time in 20 years that Congress has mandated the testing of chemicals.  The first time in 20 years.  

     And do you know why Congress was moved to take this remarkable action?

     Because of you.  

     Without the advocacy, the activism, the pressure exerted by the breast cancer coalition -- that chemical testing would not have passed the Congress and would not be in the law today.

     You made it happen, and you should be very proud.

     Finally, I want to mention one last important way that this Administration is working with the people of this country to reduce pollution.  And that is to expand the public's right to know.

     Consider this:  Ten years ago, this country began to require that industrial facilities report to their communities about the toxic chemicals they were releasing into the environment.  And that simple requirement has had an enormous effect.  In those facilities required to report to the public -- even though our economy has grown tremendously -- toxic emissions have gone down by almost half.

     Well, we want more results like that.  This Administration has doubled the number of chemicals that must be reported.  We increased by 30 percent the number of facilities that have to report.

     And two weeks ago, on Earth Day, I joined the Vice President in announcing another major expansion of the right to know.  

     For the first time ever, we're going to require companies to conduct basic public health testing for the 3,000 chemicals that are most used in this country.

     And for the first time ever, we're going to require companies to report to the public about a class of chemicals that I know you are very much concerned about -- the persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals that build up in human tissue and in breast milk.  

     And I am very proud of that action, because it is one more important step toward a safer, healthier world.

     Unfortunately, there are those in Congress, those in industry, who want to roll back environmental protection and the protection of public health.  

     The Senate has recently passed a budget resolution that would slash funding for public health and environmental protection. It would delay toxic waste cleanups.  It would hamper our ability to clean up our rivers, lakes, and streams.  

     The House recently passed legislation to weaken penalties for companies that violate environmental laws.  We're seeing proposals in Congress to roll back the clean air standards.  Proposals to put cost considerations before public health.

     If there is one thing I want to convey to every one of you, it is that all of us who are passionately committed to protecting the public's health must continue to stand together and stand tall.

     We must stand together to make sure that the search for the causes of breast cancer goes forward and with all possible speed.  We must stand together to ensure that our environmental standards are stronger and more protective than ever.  

     In closing, as I look out at all of you in this room today, I can feel the bravery, the concern, and the commitment of so many women and so many families.  I urge you from the bottom of my heart to keep up the fight, for all of us.


     And as you do, let me assure you that this Administration is ready to walk that next mile with you toward a better, a safer, and a healthier future.

     Thank you.