Daily News Archive

Bush Administration Fails at Protecting Children
(Beyond Pesticides, April 12, 2004)
The Bush Administration received an "F" from environmental health experts for how well it has protected children from environmental threats in a report released last week. "This report illustrates how this Administration's track record is toxic to our children. In choice after choice, they have lessened protections for children and missed opportunities to keep toxicants out of our children's environment," said Dr. Lynn R. Goldman, Chair of the Children's Environmental Health Network (CEHN) and Professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Children are losing out to other priorities of this Administration."

The Children's Environmental Health Network's Report Card ratings reflected a careful review of approximately 80 "decision points," such as the Administration's proposals and decisions to:

  • Not support legislation to protect children from the use of hazardous pesticides in school (School Environment Protection Act);
  • Allow the continued use of a toxic pesticide found at high levels in water systems;
  • Take mercury, a potent neurotoxicant, off of the list of hazardous air pollutants;
  • Leave the Office of Children's Health Protection leaderless for over two years;
  • Cut funding for the National Children's Study, which would follow approximately 100,000 children from before birth to at least age 18, assessing the impact of environmental factors on health;
  • Weaken the New Source Review air quality decisions; and,
  • Lessen protections under the Clean Water Act.

The Report Card on children's environmental health was not able to give a grade higher than a C in any of the 16 different areas it investigated, such as pesticides, air quality, and mercury. In 11 areas, the report's expert reviewers found that the current Administration's decisions merited an "F," including water quality, toxic substances and wastes, and right-to-know. Five sections received a "C".

Alesia Ashley, an 8th grade student in D.C., said, "Our parents have trusted our government with their hearts, they have elected you because they felt that you would do the best job in protecting their future, us children. And it is terrifying how their trust has been betrayed. All kids deserve to be safe, to know that their government is doing its job in protecting them. But I'm not just worried about children because I am a kid. We are your next presidents and congressmen and women."

CEHN Executive Director Daniel Swartz noted that the Administration is to be commended for some positive steps, such as the EPA proposal to limit pollution from off-road diesel engines, proposed improvements to the cancer risk assessment process, and supporting the international treaty to eliminate persistent organic pollutants, or POPs.

"However, most of the `positives' we identified were either counter-balanced by a negative step of greater magnitude, or were a result of the Administration reversing itself on a bad decision after a public outcry," Swartz said, citing as examples the standards for arsenic in drinking water and the Department of Health and Human Services' effort to abandon Federal oversight in screening low-income children for lead poisoning. "A Rose Garden speech by the President in support of the treaty to eliminate POPs sounds great -- until you learn how the Administration was working behind the scenes to undermine the treaty."

In 2000, then-candidate Bush, in responding to a questionnaire from the CEHN, volunteered a strong commitment to protecting the nation's children from environmental dangers. Swartz said: "We were heartened by Bush's commitments in his election-year statement. In our earlier reports, we urged the President to increase interagency cooperation, to provide adequate resources to key programs, and to instill the philosophy of protecting children throughout the government. Unfortunately, none of these challenges were met; in fact, the reverse has happened."

One excerpt from Bush's 2000 statement reads: "Considering children's unique risks, as well as those of other uniquely vulnerable groups of people and life stages, is critical to effective environmental health and safety protection. There are still many unanswered questions about the effects of various environmental compounds on children's health. We must dig deeper. We need sound data to help us move beyond speculation and conjecture and compile the very best evidence we can on the effects of potentially hazardous exposures on children. In the meantime, we must take sensible, science-based precautions."

The CEHN report concludes that: "Unfortunately, the leadership and commitment identified in those words have not been evident in this Administration. Our nation's children are at risk as a result."

TAKE ACTION: Contact [email protected], EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, and your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative, telling them how you feel about the importance of protecting children's health from environmental toxins. Also, let them how you feel about the need for the federal government to protect children from school pesticide use and that safer pest management strategies are cost effective and are being implemented in school districts across the country. Such examples are included in the Beyond Pesticides and the School Pesticide Reform Coalition's report, Safer Schools: Achieving A Healthy Learning Environment Through Integrated Pest Management.

For local and state protections, contact Beyond Pesticides and learn how to get your school to adopt a safer pest management program by:
(1) Identifying your state and school's pest management policies;
(2) Educating yourself and evaluating the program;
(3) Organizing the school community;
(4) Working with school decision-makers; and,
(5) Becoming a watchdog and establishing an IPM Committee.

For more information, see Beyond Pesticides' Children and Schools issue pages.