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Executive Order to Protect Children from Environmental Risks and Safety Risks

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Executive Order to Protect Children
from Environmental Risks and Safety Risks
Washington, DC
April 21, 1997

     I am delighted to welcome everyone here today -- the doctors, the nurses and everyone associated with this wonderful hospital -- and especially the Vice President and Secretary Shalala-- for the announcement of this historic initiative to strengthen America's families, protect the public health, and safeguard the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land on which we live.

     At last week's White House conference on early childhood development, the First Lady offered these words from the Chilean poet, Gabriella Mistral:

     "Many things we need can wait; the child cannot.  Now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, his mind being developed.  To him, we cannot say, tomorrow. His name is today."

     Today, on the eve of Earth Day -- the day on which we pay tribute to the critical task of protecting our environment and our health -- we herald an important step by President Clinton and Vice President Gore to put those words into action, and to give children a healthier start in life.

     It directs federal departments and agencies to step back from the normal regulatory, rulemaking and standard-setting process and ensure that, at the end of the day, our children are protected from environmental health risks and safety risks.

     In so doing, it builds upon EPA's experience in addressing the unique challenges of protecting children from environmental health hazards -- most notably:

     Our 1995 requirement that every environmental standard we set includes an evaluation of specific and real-world risks to children.

     Our 1996 policy that all future EPA rulemakings put children first in protecting the public health.

     Our report last September providing a national assessment of environmental health threats to children -- as well as a national agenda for addressing these concerns.

     And, most recently, our creation of an EPA Office of Children's Health Protection.

     In my dual responsibilities as the mother of a 9-year-old and as EPA administrator, I have become especially familiar how children suffer disproportionately from environmental hazards.

     When you account for their size, children eat more of certain types of food, drink more fluids, and breathe more air than adults do.  The youngest ones crawl on the floor or the ground.  The older ones spend a lot of time outdoors.  Thus, children are often more exposed to potentially harmful pollutants in the soil, around the house or in the air and water.

     And despite all the progress we have made in environmental protection over the past quarter-century -- progress we will celebrate tomorrow on Earth Day -- there is still great cause for concern about what is happening to America's children.

     We live in an era in which millions of children live near toxic waste dumps, in which 100,000 children a year accidentally ingest pesticides, and in which childhood asthma and cancer rates are on the increase.

     Under these circumstances, doesn't it make sense that our government should do everything it possibly can to ensure that children are protected from these threats to their health and safety?

     I thank the President and the Vice President for giving us this critical tool to carry out that responsibility.  I look forward to working with Secretary Shalala to see that this executive order delivers on its promise.  And I am delighted to turn the floor over to her.