I started my career at EPA as one of the first health scientists in the Superfund program in EPA’s Region 2 office in New York. In the regional Superfund program, we often met with communities impacted by Superfund sites. One of the questions that was most often asked was “Are my children safe?”
There are many things in everyday life that are important for protecting children’s environmental health. The air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, and the places where they live, learn and play, all affect the health of children. Over the past two decades research has demonstrated many ways that children are different from adults in how they are affected by their environment. For EPA, this means that all of the actions we take to protect human health must be informed by the fact that children are not just little adults; we need to consider that early life exposures can cause lifelong disease and disability.
Often, the children that are most at risk are those that live in low income communities and communities of color that are overburdened by environmental pollution. These communities face a larger proportion of environmental hazards and, often, do not have the resources or capacity to ensure that community members, especially the most vulnerable members like children, are protected from these hazards (see Lisa Garcia’s post, Becoming an Environmental Justice Advocate). We know that there are disparities in exposures and health outcomes, such as elevated blood lead levels and respiratory diseases, in low-income and minority children. These issues cannot be addressed by one or two offices in the Agency. They must be central in all the work that we do to protect human health.
By creating the cross-cutting strategy, “Working for Environmental Justice and Children’s Health,” we are not just highlighting the fact that children are uniquely vulnerable because of the stage of life that they’re in or that some communities are uniquely vulnerable because of the multiple environmental hazards they experience. We are incorporating these facts, and the data and research that support them, into the everyday business of EPA.
Tell us how you think EPA can best institutionalize working for Environmental Justice and Children’s Health? If we are successful, what do you think that success would look like?
About the author: Peter Grevatt is the Director of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education and the Senior Advisor to the Administrator on children’s environmental health.