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EPA New England Administrator Announces Children First Campaign in Connecticut; Campaign Begins With Safe Schools Initiative Featuring Showcase School in Hartford

Release Date: 10/25/2000
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New England Office today launched a $1 million, three-point "Children First" initiative aimed at protecting children from environmental health threats in the places where they spend most of their time - in school, at home and outdoors.

The plan, announced at a news conference at the Dr. Ramon E. Betances School in Hartford, includes $210,000 of new investments to programs specifically focused on Connecticut's children. These funds will pay for programs to educate families of children with lead poisoning and severe asthma; to conduct community outreach on diesel emissions and its relationship to asthma; to better manage pesticide use at 12 schools and to provide health and environmental information in Spanish on lead, asthma, indoor air quality, and outdoor air quality. This funding will also expand Connecticut's Tools for Schools program.

EPA also announced the availability of an additional $100,000 in grants to broaden opportunities across New England for environmental education in classrooms and a new "Showcase Schools" initiative in which one school in each of the New England states will be selected to showcase numerous EPA programs available to make schools safer for children.

"At a time of unparalleled prosperity all across the country, it is unacceptable that there are still thousands of children in New England afflicted by lead poisoning, mercury poisoning and bouts with asthma," said Mindy S. Lubber, regional administrator at EPA's New England Office, who is holding events in the other five New England states this fall to announce the initiative.

Lubber pledged that EPA New England - through a newly formed Children's Health Team comprised of a dozen EPA staff members - will use all the tools in its arsenal to reduce environmental risks that are causing elevated rates of asthma, lead poisoning and other diseases suffered by children.

"Pollution is unhealthy for everyone, but it is particularly threatening to children whose bodies are small and growing," said Lubber, a mother of two small children. "Our society cannot stand still when a dozen kids in Connecticut are being diagnosed with lead poisoning each and every week and our hospital emergency rooms are being flooded with small children suffering from asthma. We are fortunate that Connecticut has a great network of dedicated people taking on the challenges that face us on children's health issues"

Today's news conference included a half-dozen of the state's top public health leaders - among them Hartford Mayor Michael Peters; Dr. Joxel Garcia, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health; Arthur J. Rocque Jr., commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection; Dr. Michelle Cloutier, chief of the Pediatric Pulmonary Division of Connecticut Children's Medical Center and Ana Ortiz, principal of the Betances School.

"Connecticut is proud to have programs in place targeted at children to ensure a safe and healthy environment," said Rocque. "Working with community groups such as those in the Hartford Neighborhood Environmental Project, as well as groups in Bridgeport and New Haven, have resulted in the beginning of removal of mercury and other harmful chemicals from school settings, where our children spend so much of their time. The DEP is committed to working diligently to continue educating Connecticut's residents on the long term benefit of these programs and other environmental issues."

"We have to make sure that we improve the quality of life in our community, and not just from an economic development perspective, but from a human perspective," said Hartford Mayor Michael P. Peters. "The EPA's "Children First" initiative is a great thing for the city of Hartford, and will help families who suffer from asthma and lead poisoning, and will also help in reducing environmental risks that can lead to asthma, thus protecting more children from illness."

"Great strides have been made in Hartford in identifying children with lead poisoning and reducing the number of children exposed to lead paint" said Dr. Joxel Garcia, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). "A study of Hartford children indicated that 91 percent of those living in poverty had been tested for lead poisoning the number of children with elevated lead levels in Hartford decreased from 9.5 percent in 1994 to 5.1 percent in 1999. Statewide, numbers decreased from 6.5 percent in 1994 to 3.1 percent in 1999."

Garcia also said DPH is monitoring and tracking the prevalence of asthma and hospital emergency room use. "DPH is partnering with a number of agencies to improve the management of asthma in children in Hartford and throughout the sate. We have identified asthma as a priority health issue for the state One way DPH will address this important health issue is through an Asthma Health Summit to be held in May 2001."

Lubber kicked off the campaign by announcing the first prong of the Children First campaign -- a Safe Schools Initiative that will focus on making sure all elementary schools and high schools in New England have the safest yards, classrooms and laboratories possible. The school initiative includes the following:

Safe Schools

  • Tools for Schools: New England's school buildings suffer from a variety of environmental problems, including poor maintenance and inappropriate products, that make our children ill. In Connecticut, 68 percent of schools reported indoor environmental problems in a recent study from Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. Tools for Schools is already being implemented in 150 New England schools. EPA's $137,000 in additional investments, announced today, will assist Connecticut in recruiting schools and training school officials in the program. EPA is also working with the state's Environmental Resource Team, which provides technical assistance and training, to get the Tools for Schools program in place in as many schools as possible with the help of superintendents, principals and school committees.
  • Showcase Schools: One school in each New England state will be selected to showcase a broad spectrum of EPA programs to ensure clean indoor air, healthier building construction, safer use and storage of chemicals and a study body educated about their environment. The Betances School was named the state of Connecticut's first showcase schools.
  • Toxics-Free Schools: On July 1, 2000, a new law in Connecticut went into effect regulating the use of pesticides at schools and daycare centers. Toxic chemicals such as mercury are prevalent in medical equipment, lighting and electrical devices found in schools. A newly formed team of EPA experts will hold workshops and visit high schools and vocational schools to educate teachers and administrators on safer use, storage and disposal of chemicals and equipment. Schools use chemicals in classrooms, science laboratories and vocational shops as well as in facility maintenance.

The Safe Schools initiative is part of a three-part action plan focusing on safer schools, safer homes and safer outdoors for children. Highlights of the safer homes and safer outdoors action plans include:

Healthy Homes
  • Lead Safe Yards: New England's children are particularly at risk for lead poisoning because the region's older wooden houses often contain lead paint and lead-contaminated yards. In Connecticut in 1999, nearly 1,983 kids were diagnosed with lead poisoning, or 3.1 percent of those that were screened. EPA's Boston pilot program to make the play areas around a home safe for children has been called a national model. Officials from Hartford were in Boston this month learning more about the program. In Connecticut, the Lead Hazard Awareness Coalition promotes healthy homes in Connecticut and coordinates effective solutions for lead poisoning prevention.
  • Lead Enforcement: EPA New England's enforcement program is making lead paint a priority by creating a team to enforce laws requiring that landlords inform tenants of the presence of lead paint.
  • Asthma Reduction: According to the numbers provided by the Department of Public Health, about 87,000 children - 10 percent of the children in Connecticut - have asthma. Each year there are about 1,400 hospital admissions and 6,000 emergency room visits for children under 15 diagnosed with asthma. Black and Hispanic children are five time more likely to visit the ER or be admitted when compared to white children. Asthma is such a health problem in Hartford, especially among children, the city council has declared it an emergency. Among Hartford's children 14 and under, hospital admissions and emergency room visits for asthma were three times the state average.
    The rate of asthma attacks nationally among children has doubled in the last decade, becoming the leading cause of hospitalization of children. EPA New England is funding organizations such as Saint Francis Hospital, University of Connecticut, and the Hartford Environmental Justice Network among others that teach families at home and in health centers how to reduce the risks of asthma attacks. EPA New England also held an Asthma Summit this spring that for the first time drew together federal and state agencies along with private health groups and asthma coalitions to address this issue. The group established an initiative to track asthma rates in children and to promote new building guidelines for healthier indoor spaces.

Cleaner Outdoors
  • Mercury: EPA New England's's Partners for Change Mercury Challenge program is working with the region's hospitals to reduce mercury waste entirely by the year 2003. Hartford Hospital has applied to join 13 other New England hospitals that are partners in the program, and have eliminated more than 600 pounds of mercury from their waste streams. This month EPA New England sent letters to all 276 medical facilities in New England, encouraging them to participate in the voluntary program. This year we expect to double and, possibly, triple, participation among hospitals. Recognizing that many children get mercury poisoning because their mothers did not know the risks of eating fish from regional waters, EPA New England is launching a program to teach parents the dangers of mercury and mercury poisoning.

    The state of Connecticut's Mercury Reduction Campaign has already removed 391 pounds of mercury from hospitals, school clean-outs and thermometer exchanges. Thousands of thermometers have been turned in each week this fall under the program.

  • Air Quality Alerts: Air pollution causes lung and other respiratory diseases in children. Every summer, EPA New England gives reports on air quality to the public through the media and through electronic messages to 1,000 camps, daycare centers and individuals.

"This Children First agenda will enhance the many great efforts that are already underway in Connecticut and around New England to tackle these complex children's health problems," Lubber said. "Nationally, EPA has undertaken an effort to re-write many of the pollutant standards set for our air, water, land and food safety so that they are fully protective of children. These two initiatives together will make a big difference improving the lives of New England's children."

For more information on children's health issues and EPA-NE's Children First campaign, visit EPA's web site at