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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Announcement on Addressing Asthma Disparities, As Prepared

05/31/2012
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As prepared for delivery.

Thank you very much. I’m very happy to join Chair Sutley, Secretary Sebelius and Secretary Donovan, and to have them with us as we close out Asthma Awareness Month with new steps in our ongoing fight to reduce the prevalence and impacts of asthma.

This is an issue that is very close to my heart. Both of my sons have struggled with asthma, and my youngest son has been through some very serious attacks. He spent his very first Christmas in the hospital, fighting to breathe, and throughout his life has used a nebulizer and had to be very careful on certain trips and days. So this issue means a great deal to me. And I’m excited to see – reflected in the presence of so many of my partners and colleagues – that this issue means a great deal to this Administration as well.

Speaking of great partners, I’m very happy to be here at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington. The Boys and Girls Club of America has been an important part of our work to protect the health of children in overburdened communities, and on asthma prevention in particular. Right now we’re working together to craft a children’s health afterschool curriculum to help identify triggers and prevent asthma attacks. Where we are today – the FBR branch of the Boys and Girls Club – is a pilot site for this curriculum, and all of us at EPA are very grateful for their help. So this is really a perfect place for us to be as we announce our Action Plan, and discuss our goals and strategies to reduce the impact of asthma on children and the disparities among racial and ethnic groups.

Asthma affects nearly 26 million people in our country. And one in 10 American children has asthma, making it one of the most common chronic childhood diseases. This is certainly something I’m focused on in my role as EPA Administrator. But it’s also something I’m focused on as a mother. As I said, both of my sons have battled asthma. So I understand that these aren’t just stats and numbers – that behind every case of asthma is a child who struggles with chest pain as she breathes, a kid who is worried about joining his friends outside on a hot day, or a child who wheezes and worries about asthma attacks.

And I also know about being the parent, up all night, wondering if the faint cough I just heard from my son’s bedroom is a sign of something more serious. This is why we have taken so many steps to cut air pollution and shrink asthma and other health impacts on American families. The last three years have seen measures to reduce health threats from cars on the road and power plants. We’ve also worked to encourage greener, cleaner schools that will reduce risks to our children’s health.

In 2010 alone, pollution prevention standards under the Clean Air Act led to reductions that prevented more than 1.7 million asthma attacks. One of the accomplishments I’m most proud of happened at the end of last year, when the EPA finalized the first ever national Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants. MATS will protect millions of American families and, most importantly, millions of children from harmful air pollution. We know that because years of science tell us that mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children. And that power plant emissions of mercury and other toxics – things like arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases – have been linked to damage in developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases.

Preventing those illnesses will provide between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits for the American people. Once the rule is fully implemented in 2016, it will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths; 4,700 heart attacks; and 3,100 Emergency Room visits among children. Relevant to our discussion today – MATS will cut aggravated asthma among children by 130,000 cases.

There’s another reason this disease is so troubling to me: Children growing up in low-income and minority families face a heightened risk of asthma. And once they have the disease, they are at a higher risk of suffering more because of it. African-American children are hospitalized for asthma at twice the rate of white children, and asthma-related deaths among black children take place at a rate of four times that of white children. Hispanic children also face a higher risk of asthma. This doesn’t have to be the case. All too often, America’s low-income and minority communities are saddled with the worst air pollution in our country and face disproportionate health impacts as a result. That sad fact also leads to disproportionate economic impacts. Asthma costs Americans about $56 billion every year, from direct medical costs related to things like hospital stays, to indirect costs like missed school days or work hours.

For all of these reasons, environmental justice and expanding the conversation on environmentalism have been priorities for me at the EPA from the day I was sworn in – and they’re priorities across the entire administration. We’ve formed an Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice – or EJ – and all of the federal agencies are involved at the most senior levels. Last August we signed an MOU committing to updating our agencies’ EJ strategies – so that we could approach these issues more effectively across the board. We’re now working together to finalize and implement the updated plans.

The bottom line is, every child in America should grow up in a healthy environment, with access to clean air and clean water. This is the idea behind the Presidential Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children – and the basis for the interagency Asthma Disparities Working Group. It’s also the driving force behind the Coordinated Action Plan we’re unveiling today.

Asthma’s impact and the ethnic and racial disparities that still exist are too important – and too broad – for one agency to tackle alone. The Coordinated Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities is aimed at improving coordination and collaboration at multiple levels, and promoting greater interaction among the various federal plans that affect asthma management. This plan provides a framework to ensure that we’re communicating regularly and better organized in our efforts. It will help us accelerate action on the interventions that work best, and synchronize when it comes to researching and developing strategies to protect our children from the effects of asthma.

The Action Plan also allows us to collaborate more effectively with stakeholders outside the federal government. Each of the asthma-related federal program offices has strong relationships with various state and local health departments, nonprofits, community groups and asthma organization. The Action Plan enhances the interagency coordination of these partnerships, so that we can all work together, every step of the way.

In short, the Action Plan is aimed at getting the right care with the right support to children who need our help.

We have a lot of work ahead of us to reduce the effects of asthma and the racial and ethnic disparities that exist, and this plan is just one step. But it’s an important one. And it’s an encouraging one. By coordinating, streamlining and enhancing efforts across the federal government, millions of American children – in every community – will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe a little easier. It makes me proud to be able to say that as Administrator of the EPA – and it gives me great comfort to say that as a mother of children who have battled asthma.

Thank you very much.