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President Extends Executive Order on Task Force on Environmental Risks to Children
(May 6, 2003)
The White House announced April 18 that by Executive Order (Executive Order 13045--Protection of Children From Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks) it is extending the Task Force on Environmental Health and Safety Risks to Children as part of "his efforts to increase federal coordination on a wide range of children's health issues". The Task Force, co-chaired by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has identified priority areas for immediate attention, including asthma, unintentional injuries, developmental disorders, lead poisoning, and cancer. The Task Force, established in April 1997 by Executive Order, directed each federal agency to make it a high priority to identify, assess, and address children's environmental health and safety risks. This effort provides an opportunity for federal departments and agencies to work together to improve the environmental health and safety of America's children. Fourteen other cabinet departments and White House agencies also participate in the Task Force. The U.S. House of Representatives sponsor of the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), blasted the Bush Administration's environmental record.

"Children represent 25 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "EPA is committed to working with all of our federal partners to ensure that our kids' water is safe to drink, they have clean air to breathe and the land that they play on is free of pollution."

"We have no higher priority than the health and well-being of our children," said HHS Secretary Thompson. "Working together, the President and his administration are putting prevention first in our efforts to strengthen the environment for our children so they won't suffer from asthma, painful injuries or other preventable diseases. We want to provide an environment that encourages our children to be physically active, thus assuring their healthy growth and development."

The Task Force activities address environmental and safety risks to children including developing and implementing strategies to address childhood asthma and eliminate lead poisoning. An estimated 6.3 million children under 18 years of age suffered from asthma in 2001 and it was the fourth ranking cause of hospitalization among children less than 15 years of age. Asthma disproportionately affects children from lower-income families and children from different racial and ethnic groups. Studies link pesticides to childhood asthma and respiratory problems. Scientists increasingly associate learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders with low level toxic exposure because of their effect on the central nervous system. In addition, nearly 430,000 American children between the ages of one to five had elevated blood lead levels that can cause irreversible disabilities such as lower IQ and neurological damage. Today, children's exposure to lead is mostly due to the ingestion of contaminated dust, paint, and soil.

The National Children's Study undertaken by this Task Force will follow about 100,000 children before birth, through childhood, up to adulthood to look at the connections between environmental exposures and potential health effects. In October 2002, federal efforts highlighted the importance of protecting children during Children's Health Month and planning for the October 2003 events are underway. A strategy is currently being developed to address environmental conditions in schools that can adversely affect children's health.

The administration says that the work of the Task Force highlights the Bush Administration's strong commitment to protecting children from environmental health and safety risks and supports the President's focus on "No Child Left Behind."