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2003 National Conference on Asthma, Washington, D.C.

Remarks for Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
2003 National Conference on Asthma
Washington, D.C.

June 19, 2003

Thank you Dr. (Claude) Lenfant for that introduction. I want to also thank the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program for their leadership on asthma and for making this conference possible. EPA is proud to be a co-sponsor of this important event.

It is an honor to be here this morning with the men and women who are making a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans who suffer from asthma. From physicians to health educators to school personnel, each of you is on the front lines everyday researching, managing, and fighting this disease.

For people with asthma , simple, everyday activities that most of us take for granted B climbing the stairs, walking, taking a deep breath B can be difficult daily struggles. As you well know, asthma has grown to epidemic proportions in our country and continues to increase.

During my time at EPA, I have traveled to schools all around the country, and I always ask students the same question B A Do you or does anyone in your family have asthma? @ In most instances, anywhere from a third to half of the students will raise their hands. Occasionally, such as when I was in New Hampshire last week, the response is overwhelming and approaches three-fourths of the students.

Now, this may not be a scientific poll, but it is a powerful reminder that all across our nation, millions of Americans have asthma, and among the hardest hit by this disease are our children.

While we do not know all the causes of asthma, we do know that environmental triggers such as secondhand smoke, dust mites, mold, and air pollution can make asthma worse.

Fortunately, we can address these triggers and in many cases remove them altogether.

That is why it is so important that we not only diagnose kids with asthma and provide the proper medication, but that we also educate parents and communities about indoor asthma triggers and assist them in taking the necessary steps to make their homes and schools healthier.

Recently, EPA conducted a public survey on indoor asthma triggers, and over three- fourths of those surveyed who have asthma or have a child with asthma could not identify the top indoor environmental triggers. It is clear that we have far to go in educating Americans about these triggers, and it is imperative that we push forward with this important message.

That has been a focus of our work at EPA through programs such as the National Asthma Awareness campaign and the Smoke-Free Home initiative, which helps parents identify indoor environmental triggers that make asthma worse.

To support this effort, the President has requested a $3 million increase in his FY 04 budget to combat children = s asthma B raising total funding to $23.9 million.

Second hand smoke is one of the most dangerous forms of indoor air pollution B increasing the severity of asthma for one million children every year B and, yet it is one of the easiest triggers to prevent.

Much has been done to decrease the effects of second hand smoke in public places, but children who spend most of their time in homes with smokers are still being exposed at alarmingly high rates.

In fact, 43% of the people who called our Asthma Hotline last year said they allowed smoking in their home, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 5 million children under the age of 6 are exposed to second hand smoke at home.

During Asthma Awareness month in May, we launched a new public service announcement as part of our National Smoke-Free Challenge. It encourages parents to make their homes smoke-free.

Of course, improving the air at home is only part of the solution; addressing the air quality in our schools is also vitally important.

More than 50 million children in America spend their days in our elementary and secondary schools, and studies show that over half of those schools are confronted with health issues, such as asthma and allergies, that are linked to poor indoor air quality.

In terms of environmental safety, there are a multitude of ways that schools can improve indoor air quality. EPA developed the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program to give teachers and administrators the guidance they need to identify improvements that can be made, such as ensuring that ventilation systems are operating efficiently and outlining proper maintenance procedures.

All around the country, schools are voluntarily implementing this important program. Currently, there are over 10,000 schools utilizing Tools for Schools.

In addition to improving indoor air quality, this Administration = s work to address outdoor air quality, especially the President = s Clear Skies Act, will also have a direct impact on children suffering from asthma.

Clear Skies will achieve mandatory reductions of 70% of three of the most dangerous pollutants emitted by power plants B nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury.

This will provide dramatic health benefits to the American people every year, including preventing 12,000 premature deaths and reducing by 15 million the days when sufferers of asthma and other respiratory illnesses are unable to work, go to school, or carry out their normal day to day activities because of bad air quality.

Clear Skies complements our other air initiatives, such as our work to address the emissions from mobile sources and our recently launched Clean School Bus USA initiative to improve the pollution performance of our public school buses.

By using new technology to make the exhaust from school buses much cleaner and by eliminating unnecessary idling, we can reduce pollution from buses and improve the health of those who ride them. Last week, I announced a $5 million grant program to assist school districts in updating their fleets.

Our goal is simple B to ensure that by the year 2010, every public school bus on the road in all 50 states is a clean school bus, emitting less pollution and contributing to cleaner air.

From Clear Skies outdoors to our indoor air efforts, reducing the number of children who have asthma is one of the top priorities of the Environmental Protection Agency and this Administration.

Of course, the federal government can only do so much, and we depend upon the work of those of you here in this room if we are to be successful in defeating this disease.

For so many Americans the struggle to breathe is a difficult hardship to overcome. By working together, we can help them surmount this disease and improve the quality of life for people with asthma all across our nation.

Thank you.