Washington, DC — At a news conference at the National Press Club this morning, several national organizations released the results of a challenge to Presidential candidates to reveal how they would protect children from environmental hazards. Every major Presidential candidate is on record as saying they would give children’s health and well-being a high priority as President. According to these groups, however, all candidates can do more to address the too-often overlooked link between children and their environment. Some of the developmental impacts of environmental risks have important adverse effects on the ability of children to learn and develop into productive adults.
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and former Council of Environmental Quality Chair Kathleen McGinty, representing Democratic candidate Al Gore, spoke at the news conference. The campaign of Republican candidate George W. Bush has committed to respond after the GOP convention in Philadelphia. The campaign of Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan also indicated it will respond.
“The challenge has not ended. We hope to hear from all candidates,” said Daniel Swartz, Executive Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network. “On this issue, voters deserve to hear frequent debates on the campaign trail – and action from the Oval Office.”
“Concern for the environment is a major public health issue that affects the health and future of millions of our children,” the organizations wrote in their challenge to the campaigns. “In order to fully protect the health of the next generation, we must prevent injury from environmental hazards for the fetus, infant, child, and adolescent.”
“We need to find out which substances may harm a child’s ability to learn, to memorize, to behave, and to concentrate, and delete them from our children’s environments,” said Sally Smith, the founder and director of The Lab School of Washington, representing the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “Exposure to chemicals such as PCBs is associated with learning disabilities. In brief, the health of our environment is critical to the ability of our children to learn.”
“It is a fact that African American and minority children are being disproportionately affected by environmental hazards. We must do everything we can to protect our children, because our children equal our destiny,” said Lisa Bland Malone of the National Urban League.
Children are exposed to a wide variety of pollutants that can harm every system in their developing bodies. For example:
* An estimated 1 million children in the United States have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood, which can lower I.Q. and result in behavioral problems.
* Some pesticides have also been shown to have detrimental effects on children’s nervous systems.
* Scientists are just beginning to study chemicals that can disrupt human hormone systems, affecting brain function and reproductive systems.
“If you say you want future generations to develop to their full potential, then you have to protect them from hazards in the environment,” said Routt Reigart, MD, Advisory Board Chair of the Children’s Environmental Health Network and Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina.
“Most of the chemicals in commercial use today have not been tested for their effects on the developing systems of the fetus, the infant, the child, or the adolescent, a situation these groups hope the next president will address. Our experience with lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) shows that children can suffer life-long harm from exposures that would have little or no impact on an adult,” Reigart said.
Some questions raised by the organizations included:
* Will you sustain the Executive Order on children’s environmental health signed in April 1997? If so, what measures do you plan to take to implement the Order?
* Do you explicitly support considering children’s unique susceptibilities, as strongly emphasized by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Academy of Sciences, in the setting of safety and environmental standards? Why or why not?
* Do you think that added margins of safety to protect children, such as that in the Food Quality Protection Act, should be more generally incorporated into regulations? Why or why not?
* Would you choose to eliminate, continue, or enhance the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection? Why or why not?
* What specific steps will you take to protect children most at risk to environmental hazards due to multiple exposures, income level, access to health care, or racial/ethnic background?
The organizations sending the challenge to candidates include the Children’s Environmental Health Network, the American Public Health Association, the Farmworker Justice Fund, the Learning Disabilities Association, National 4-H Council, the National Council of Catholic Women, and the National Urban League.