NO MOTHER'S DAY GIFT
FROM THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION
As Mothers Day approaches, a review ofchildrens environmental health in the Bush Administrationhad little good news for the nations concerned parents. A review of how well President Bushs Administration isadhering to his campaign commitments to protect children fromenvironmental toxicants found some bright spots but more missedopportunities. According to the report by the Children'sEnvironmental Health Network, Are Children Left Behind?:Children's Environmental Health under the BushAdministration, "While there have been notable exceptions,all too often, when this Administration made important decisionsaffecting childrens health, children ended up with lessprotection, not more."
Building on the reports findings, more than 60organizations, ranging from the American Nurses Association tothe National Urban League to the National Conference of CatholicWomen, wrote to President Bush, urging him to reverse hisposition on several recent decisions. The letter, released withthe report, was critical of the weakening the Executive Order onchildrens environmental health and safety, EPAswithdrawal of already-committed funds for the NationalChildrens Study, and the creation of loopholes in publichealth protections, such as continued grandfatheringof power-plants from pollution controls and legislation currentlymoving through Congress that would exempt the Department ofDefense from environmental health regulations including cleanair, waste management and Superfund laws.
The organizations called upon the President to support policiesthat consistently put childrens health before narroweconomic interests, research programs that consistently invest inlong-term, child-focused programs, and environmental health laws,regulatory decisions and enforcement actions that consistentlyprotect all childrens environmental health. Thesevery diverse groups agree that the President would give thecountry a wonderful Mothers Day gift and make a starttoward the comprehensive protection children need by reversingcourse in these three areas, said Dr. Lynn R. Goldman,Chair of the Children's Environmental Health Network andProfessor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of PublicHealth.
In 2002, then-candidate Bush responded to a questionnaire fromthe Network outlining how he would help to protect thenations children from environmental dangers. In thestatement, he strongly supported child-protective measures, suchas using an additional safety factor to protect children whenregulating pesticides. In his statement, he acknowledged:Children do have unique exposures and susceptibilities, sostandard approaches to assessing and regulating health and safetyhazards may not always account explicitly for children'spotentially different risks.
However, CEHNs analysis found that post-election reality isnot living up to the campaign rhetoric. The report found thatmost activities focused on childrens environmental healthhave had to struggle for resources and visibility, and relevantinteragency activities have halted or slowed to an imperceptiblepace.
One of the greatest criticisms in the report was that thedecisions made by this Administration almost uniformlyreflect a philosophy of protecting economic interests, notchildren nor childrens health. For example, thisAdministration has placed greatly increased weight on usingcost-benefit analyses that shortchange children when makingregulatory decisions. Through the formulas now used at OMB,preventing the death a three year old with a life expectancy of78 years results not in 75 years saved, but only 14.3years saved, thus tremendously undercounting thebenefits of preventive measures. The value of childrenslives overall decreases by half each decade under OMBscalculations.
The report also identified positive steps by the Administration,such as the EPA proposal to limit diesel-related pollution fromoff-road diesel engines and proposed improvements to the cancerrisk assessment process.
However, the report noted that many of the other positiveexamples are discrete one-time decisions, such asbanning lead candle wicks, rather than establishingfundamental policies that offer intrinsic protections forchildren, such as requiring developmental neurotoxicitytesting for pesticides. In some cases, these discrete actionswere offset by longer-term negative decisions of greaterpotential impact, such as removing nationally-respectedindependent experts from advisory panels on lead and replacingthem with industry representatives.
Additionally, a substantial subset of health-protectivedecisions occurred only after strong public outcry against aproposed policy. In such instances, the Administrationsfirst choice was not to protect children, but public pressureencouraged a better outcome.
Rabbi Daniel Swartz, Executive Director of the Children'sEnvironmental Health Network stated, We were heartened byBushs commitments in his election-year statement. Thesepromises remain far from fulfilled. Children, especially those incommunities of color and low-income neighborhoods, still face toomany environmental health risks and thus are still being leftbehind. If the President increases interagency cooperation,provides adequate resources to key programs, and helps instillthe philosophy of protecting children throughout the government,our next report will look far different from this one.
Written by: Children's Environmental Health Network
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