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1998 Women's Issues Conference -- Sponsored by Rep. Moran

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
1998 Women's Issues Conference -- Sponsored by Rep. Moran
                         Alexandria, VA
                       September 12, 1998

     Thank you Congressman Moran, for that introduction.

     I am delighted to be here today and I am equally delighted that all of you are here today.

     I know that freeing up a whole Saturday is no simple feat for most women. Free time never has, and never will be, a plentiful commodity for us.  Women have made great progress in the past century. We're CEOs and scientists, lawyers and politicians, engineers. We're working women. But we also are mothers and daughters, sisters and spouses, wives and friends. And that's a lot for our plates, a lot to balance.

     As a woman, it has been my honor to serve in an administration that has done so much to help women gain some balance in their lives. I'm talking about the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Violence Against Women Act, student loan reform, focus on quality, affordable day care, expanded research on breast cancer, ovarian cancer and other women's health issues, allowing women need to lead full, productive, healthy lives -- to reach our fullest potential.

     Congressman Jim Moran, I want to thank you for supporting this administration's efforts for women's health, for your leadership on these issues, and for protecting our children from environmental hazards. On behalf of all women, I thank you. Not all in Congress share this view.

     Women face many issues in their lives. But it is telling that a conference called A Women's Issues Conference is almost solely about our health. Clearly, it's a subject of paramount importance to us.

     Breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and reproductive disorders -- few women can claim that they have not -- in some way -- been touched by these diseases. Our sisters, friends, mothers, ourselves -- we all are vulnerable.     And that is why we are here today -- to talk to about our health. As head of the nation's Environmental Protection Agency, my job is just about cleaning the air and saving rivers.  It's about people -- protecting their health, their communities, by protecting where we live and how we live.

     When we protect our environment, we protect people.

     Over the past 25 plus years -- since our major environmental laws were passed and the EPA was established -- this nation has made great progress in protecting public health and the environment. Our rivers and lakes are cleaner, our air healthier, our land freer from toxic chemicals.

     But we cannot say the job is done.  Forty percent of our rivers and lakes that have been surveyed are not suitable for swimming and fishing. One-third of Americans live in an area where the air is not healthy to breathe. Four million kids live within four miles of a toxic waste dump. Three years ago, 100 people died in Milwaukee because of unclean water.  

     And too many women suffer needlessly from breast cancer and reproductive disorders. Too many of our children fall prey to childhood asthma.  And while we are not sure why these and certain other diseases are on the rise in this country, many scientists believe that toxic chemicals in our environment play a role.

     When I became the head of EPA, I learned, much to my surprise, that all too often, this country's environmental standards had been based on the average 154-pound man.  

     Safe pesticide exposures, drinking water and air standards -- all of these were set for the average adult male.  

     No one was asking, "Do these standards adequately protect the average woman? The average child?  A pregnant woman?  An elderly person?"

     Well, we must do better -- and we are doing better.

     This administration has forged a new generation of environmental and public health protection -- standards that are second to none and vigorous enforcement of those standards. This new generation of protection is about more information, the right tools, and greater flexibility so that the American people can take action to reduce pollution in their own communities.

     And this Administration has made a fundamental change in how we approach the protection of public health. Today, when we set safety standards -- for drinking water, for eating fish, for pesticides -- we use a very different measure.  Today, we require that those standards be adequate to protect all people, including women, including children, including any group with a special sensitivity.

     When we protect our most vulnerable citizens, we protect every American.

     That is a very significant change and a tremendous victory for the health of women and children.

     We expanded research into breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and other serious diseases that afflict women.  

     And in so doing, we put an emphasis not just on early diagnosis and treatment but on the root causes of disease.  On prevention of disease.  Because prevention must be our most important goal.

     But research is not enough.  And so we have moved aggressively -- not just to study -- but to reduce those environmental toxins that may cause breast cancer, ovarian cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, and other harmful health effects.

     This is why President Clinton announced the toughest action in a generation to protect Americans from air pollution -- new, updated public health air standards for smog and soot. These new standards together will protect 125 million Americans, including 35 million children, from the adverse health effects of breathing polluted air.  

     More specifically, they will prevent approximately 15,000 premature deaths, about 350,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and nearly a million cases of significantly decreased lung function in children.

     Breathing polluted air hurts our health -- whether it's the unhealthy air we saw all across the country this summer, or the unhealthy air we must breathe when others smoke cigarettes around those who choose not to smoke.

     EPA has found more than 300,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis every year in infants and young children exposed to secondhand smoke. We found 28,000 hospitalizations annually for children with asthma -- because of secondhand smoke.  We are now seeing middle ear infections, SIDS, reduced lung function and symptoms of respiratory irritation such as coughing and wheezing in children -- all related to secondhand tobacco smoke.

     EPA has sought to educate the American people about the dangers of second-hand smoke. The tobacco industry sued EPA saying we did not have the authority to educate the public. We disagree. Early next week, we will file an appeal on behalf of the American people.
     Secondhand tobacco smoke has real health consequences for people who do not smoke -- and we must all remain vigilant.

     This administration has also taken action to protect the American people -- especially our children -- from toxic pollution in our water and on our land.

     With our new Safe Drinking Water Act, we set tough public health standards to keep toxic pollution and raw sewage out of the sources of our drinking water -- out of our rivers, coastal waters, and lakes -- before the pollution enters our taps.

     Our new food safety law reduces dangerous pesticides on our foods and creates a single and more protective, health-based, children-first standard for all pesticides, all health risks, all foods.  

     And in both of these laws, we worked with Congress to put in a provision to require the testing of chemicals that disrupt the human endocrine system -- chemicals that change how our hormones function and could be linked to breast cancer and other diseases.

     We reduced toxic pollution from chemical plants by nearly 90 percent.  We took tough action against the burning of medical waste and other hazardous waste -- controlling 90 percent of the known sources of cancer-causing dioxin that accumulates in human tissue and in breast milk.  

     This Administration has cleaned up more Superfund toxic waste sites in the last five and half years than in the previous 12 years of the program. Nearly 90 percent of Superfund sites are either cleaned up or in the midst of cleanup. Now thousands of children can play in a neighborhood free of toxics -- something every child should be able to do.

     Finally, I want to mention one last important way that this Administration is working with the people of this country to reduce pollution.  And that is to expand the public's right to know.

     Consider this:  Ten years ago, this country began to require that industrial facilities report to their communities about the toxic chemicals they were releasing into the environment.  And in those facilities required to report to the public -- even though our economy has grown tremendously -- toxic emissions have gone down by almost half.

     Well, we want more results like that.  This Administration has doubled the number of chemicals that must be reported.  We increased by 30 percent the number of facilities that have to report. Recently, the Vice President announced for the first time ever, we're going to require companies to conduct basic public health testing for the 3,000 chemicals that are most used in this country.

     And for the first time ever, we're going to require companies to report to the public about persistent chemicals that build up in human tissue and in breast milk.  

     Our work to protect the American people continues because this administration believes that no parent should have to tell a child on a warm summer day that the air is just too dirty to go outside. No parent should have to tell a child that the fish isn't safe to eat, or the water is too polluted for swimming. No parent should have to raise a child next to a toxic waste dump.

     We women have enough to worry about without having to wonder whether our families are safe when we work and play outdoors, or turn on the tap, or wade in a neighborhood stream.

     We stand on the threshold of a new century full of new promise, full of new hope -- but our health still hangs in the balance. We must all stand together, stand tall, shoulder to shoulder, and walk over that threshold fighting to protect ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country from all that threatens our health. We must search for the causes of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and all the reproductive disorders that plague so many women.

     We must stand firm for tough environmental and public health standards so that our children, and their children, and all the generations to come won't worry as we do about the safety of our air, water, and land. Our worries today, should be just memories tomorrow. Our children deserve no less. And we deserve no less.

     Thank you.