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Aging Initiative Public Listening Session, Tampa, Florida

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
Tampa, Florida

April 3, 2003

Thank you Jimmy (Palmer) for that introduction. I = d like to welcome all of you to the first of EPA = s six public listening sessions to discuss and develop the National Agenda on the Environment and the Aging.

I would like to thank the University of South Florida and the West Central Florida Area Agency on Aging for sponsoring this important event and our partners from the state and local government for participating and helping to facilitate this session.

As many of you know, our country is undergoing a dramatic demographic transformation. By mid-century, our population over 65 will have more than doubled from today B although some of us will be joining that group long before then. There is no doubt that the rapid growth of the senior population, coupled with the fact that older Americans are more vulnerable to environmental hazards, make this a population that deserves special attention. As a result, during my tenure at EPA we have made protecting the health of older Americans a top priority.

The older we are, the more susceptible we become to threats from the environment, which may cause or worsen chronic or life-threatening conditions. Poor indoor air quality as well as ozone and particulate matter in outdoor air, exacerbate respiratory and heart conditions, trigger asthma attacks, and limit activity levels. Older immune systems are also less able to fight off waterborne microbes such as cryptosporidium and e-coli. In addition, environmental and occupational contaminants, such as lead and mercury, that are capable of remaining in the body may accumulate over a lifetime and cause health problems.

The National Agenda on the Environment and Aging will help prioritize and address these environmental health risks. Building upon ongoing EPA research and working with our many partners from the government, private, and research sectors, we have laid out the framework for the National Agenda. This framework is to serve as a jumping off point for discussion and encompasses three distinctive areas of focus.

First, we will identify critical research gaps that exist in addressing environmental health threats and utilize that research to develop preventative actions that can be taken to reduce those risks. Second, we will examine the impact a rapidly aging society will have on our environment B exploring a number of factors from effects on water usage to issues associated with the disposal of antibiotics. The President has already requested one million dollars in his FY 04 budget to support both of these research efforts. Finally, we want to encourage older Americans to volunteer in their communities and contribute their expertise and talents to help reduce environmental hazards and protect the environment for persons of all ages. We will continue to look for new ways to increase their involvement and utilize their skills to help make our communities healthier and safer.

As I mentioned earlier, this is only a framework for discussion and a foundation to build upon. The reason we are holding this series of listening sessions in communities across America is to ensure that the people who have the most to gain from this Agenda B older Americans and those who care for their health B have a direct hand in crafting the finished product. Only by opening up this process and encouraging this type of active participation can we expect to gain a more complete understanding of the environmental health issues of most concern to older Americans and the most effective ways to address those issues.

Your participation here today is crucial to the success of this Agenda and our work to meet the environmental challenges we face as we grow older. There are many different perspectives and voices represented in this room today, and I know that this group will yield valuable insight and direction to our efforts. The challenge we face is to improve the quality of life for older Americans, and I want to thank you for your participation and willingness to help us meet that challenge. Working together we can ensure that for all older Americans the future is one of environmental health and security.

Thank you.