Girl Planting seeds

Memo to EPA- Who's Protecting our Kids (And Yours Too)?

children_and_pollutionBy Deirdre Imus, October 17, 2018
As someone who has advocated for the health of children and our planet for more than two decades, I was disheartened to learn earlier this month that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put Dr. Ruth Etzel, a pediatric epidemiologist and director of its Office of Children’s Health Protection, on “administrative leave.” This comes just a few months after the EPA decided to dissolve a program dedicated specifically to studying the effects of pollution and chemicals on children’s health. It is a one-two punch to the gut.

The very mission of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® at Hackensack University Medical Center complements some of the work that EPA has recently – until now – done. Each and every day, we seek to identify, control, and ultimately prevent toxic exposures in the environment that threaten the health of our kids. It seemed like a daunting task at first, but we’ve made real and meaningful change in our hospital and beyond by raising awareness of these dangers, and conducting research that has brought to light just how hazardous these carcinogens are to children, sometimes before they’re even born.

These recent and disheartening developments from the EPA only make my job and my center’s goals – and that of so many other dedicated organizations – more difficult to achieve. Without a distinguished physician like Dr. Etzel at its helm, the Office of Children’s Health Protection may languish, unprotected from the influence of outside groups whose special interests run directly counter to the health of our kids.

As the New York Times noted in a recent op-ed, there are laws designed specifically to safeguard children’s health from threats as vastas air pollution and as specific as the amount of pesticides that can be used on food crops (which should be zero, as far as I’m concerned). These laws also seek to address the health problems associated with chemicals used to make a wide range of products, from toys and cleaning products to furniture and cosmetics. They aren’t perfect, but they’re much better than nothing.

Laws designed to protect our kids benefit us all. Dr. Etzel recently told CBS News she worries the message of her being placed on leave is that kids are “disposable.” She cautioned that kids will continue to be poisoned with no one from her office “nagging” leadership to consider how certain policies will impact children’s health. I share her deep concern, both for our kids’ health and for the idea that such a respected official would be placed on leave with little notice or rationale.

This is a defining moment. EPA officials can decide who works there, but they can’t control what the rest of us do to protect children against the hazardous substances pervading our air, water, and food. I got hip to the connection between the environment and human health before organic, green, eco-friendly and sustainable were household terms. I haven’t stopped trying to spread this dogma, or advocating for the need to eliminate the toxic exposures that make so many of us sick. My passion for children’s health and protecting this beautiful Earth will never wane either. 

Join me on this journey. It has been immensely gratifying to know for certain that I am on the right side of history here. 

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