Vice President Gore today announced an executive order to reduce environmental health and safety risks to children. For the first time, federal agencies will be required to assign high priority to addressing these risks, to coordinate their research priorities on children's health, and to ensure that their standards take into account special risks to children.BACKGROUND
Because children are still developing and because of they take in more food, water, and air relative to their body weight than adults, they are more susceptible than adults to environmental threats. In the past 25 years we have made great progress in protecting public health from environmental hazards, but we still have far to go: Asthma is now the leading cause of hospital admissions for children, 10 million children under the age of four still live within four miles of a toxic dump, and despite a steady decline in childhood lead poisoning, there are still nearly one million children under the age of five who suffer from this condition.
The executive order, which President Clinton signed today, includes the following actions:Strengthen Policies to Protect Children. The executive order requires all agencies to make the protection of children a high priority in implementing their statutory responsibilities and fulfilling their overall missions.
Improve Research and other Initiatives to Protect Children. The proposed executive order would create an interagency task force to establish a coordinated research agenda, to identify research and other initiatives the Administration will take to advance the protection of children's environmental health and safety, and to enlist public input for these efforts. The Office of Management and Budget is charged with convening an Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, to produce an annual compendium of the most important indicators of the well being of the Nation's children.
Ensure that New Safeguards Consider Special Risks to Children. The executive order would, for the first time, require agencies to analyze and explain the effects of their rules on children. When a major regulation addresses special risks to children, agencies would have to 1) consider disproportionate impacts on children; and 2) explain why their proposed action is preferable to other alternatives. The primary goal of this provision is to link policy decisions to the emerging science regarding children's environmental health and safety. This provision ensures accountability to the public and helps agencies identify their research needs.
There is a growing body of evidence, highlighted by a 1993 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the exposure of children to pesticides, demonstrating that children are at disproportionate risk from environmental health, and safety risks. The report also concludes that federal regulatory standards often fail to consider these risks fully.
These disproportionate risks stem from several fundamental differences between children and adults, in terms of physiology and activity. Children are still developing, and thus are neurologically and immunologically more susceptible to certain risks. Children eat, drink and breathe more for their weight, exposing them to greater amounts of contamination and pollution for their weight. Children are less able to protect themselves by use of judgment and skill (e.g. navigating traffic, reading and following warnings). Concurrent with their recognition of these factors, scientists have documented an alarming increase in the incidence of conditions in children that may be linked to environmental health and safety risks. These include childhood cancer, leukemia, and asthma, as well as childhood deaths and injuries from accidents.
President Clinton has taken bold action to respond to the challenge posed by this new science. President Clinton's initiatives resulted in explicit protection for children in the Food Quality Protection Act and Safe Drinking Water Act; development of new standards for passive restraints in cars that are more protective of children; and administrative action to protect children from tobacco, lead, and other hazards. Each of these initiatives responds to major threats to children that are of major concerns to American families.
These successes highlight the need for an overall, coordinated approach to children's issues that highlights their priority, coordinates federal research, and ensures that federal standards consistently account for disproportionate risks to children. Today's executive order, developed though extensive consultation with affected agencies, would fill this gap with provisions to address each of these areas.