EPA Celebrates 25 Years of Children’s Environmental Health Protection

WASHINGTON — To commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the landmark Executive Order Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks signed in 1997, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the award of the first four cooperative agreements under the Children’s Healthy Learning Environments in Low-Income and/or Minority Communities competition. This $2 million grant program competition was funded by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to support children’s environmental health by building capacity through activities that identify and address disproportionate environmental or public health harms and risks in underserved communities.

“We know children are especially vulnerable to environmental health risks as they grow, and we also know not all children face the same risks – black and Latino children still have higher rates of asthma compared to white children and have higher rates of lead exposure,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “It’s time to focus on addressing those disparities so that all children, no matter their race or income, have a safe, level playing field.”

The four grantees who have been awarded $200,000 each are:

  • Health Resources in Action whose project, “Healthy Environments Advance Learning (HEAL): Building Capacity for Resilient Schools in Massachusetts,” will build knowledge and capacity to improve environmental health conditions within schools across Massachusetts, optimizing outcomes related to healthy childhood development particularly for districts where students are most burdened by asthma and extreme heat. HEAL will provide training and technical assistance on policies and practices to address environmental asthma triggers, extreme heat, and ventilation to 5-7 school districts in low-income communities. HEAL will also leverage partner networks to disseminate resources to all MA public school districts and across New England.
  • Women for a Healthy Environment whose project will complete over 200 eco-healthy assessments and offer solutions and technical assistance to address environmental risks at childcare centers in low-income and minority communities across Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Additionally, childcare center staff across Philadelphia will participate in webinars focused on relevant environmental health topics. Through this cooperative agreement, Women for a Healthy Environment will form a statewide partnership with childcare centers to strategize bringing additional resources and mitigation strategies to centers across the commonwealth.
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston whose project will conduct “Outreach for Healthy Learning Environments in West Texas.” Through this project, UTHealth will partner with the Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health to build capacity for healthier learning environments within low-income schools in the Paso del Norte Region. The main objectives are to provide culturally relevant information for school decision-makers to identify health risk drivers, demonstrate best practices for maintaining an environmentally safe school, and share preparedness procedures in anticipation of an adverse event. 
  • The American Lung Association’s “Breathe Well Learn Well” project will build awareness and capacity for schools in Tribal communities on the Fort Peck, Blackfeet, and Crow/Northern Cheyenne reservations in Montana to establish lung-friendly schools (LFS) policies and practices, thereby reducing children’s exposure to environmental health contaminants. These tribal communities are on the front-line of climate change-related health impacts and face disproportionate environmental health hazards from intense wildfire smoke episodes. Bolstering the role of schools to provide a clean air respite based on their own priorities will improve the health of everyone at the school. Many of the mitigation strategies and trainings available through the ALA provide evidence-based and best practice efforts that also help reduce COVID-19 transmission risk. Montana also has naturally high levels of radon, prompting the need for education and awareness on this EH hazard that can work to improve public health.

EPA is currently processing six additional cooperative agreements of $200,000 each from the competition which will fulfill the objective of funding one cooperative agreement per EPA region. EPA is pleased to announce that the following recipients have been selected to receive funding to support children’s environmental health in learning environments. EPA anticipates it will award these organizations cooperative agreements of $200,000 each once all legal and administrative requirements are satisfied.

  • Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (U.S. Virgin Islands)
  • University of Mississippi Medical Center (central Mississippi)
  • Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
  • Wichita State University (Kansas)
  • Northern Arizona University (Cocopah Tribe)
  • Child Care Aware of America (Oregon)

This grant program is part of EPA’s funding to address environmental health disparities head on; in addition, EPA also used ARP funding to support the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units across the country, a network of health care practitioners who address children’s health issues that arise through environmental exposures.  PEHSUs work to “address historical injustices and ongoing environmental racism and address the existential threat of climate change.”

In 1997, EPA established the Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP). OCHP leads the Agency’s work to ensure that all children, especially those in underserved communities, thrive by living, learning, and playing free from environmental exposures like hazardous chemicals, indoor and outdoor air pollution, and unsafe drinking water that contribute to harmful health effects. Watch this video to learn more about the importance of children’s environmental health and EPA’s role in protecting it. 

Last October, EPA issued its first-ever revision to the Policy on Children’s Health. The 2021 policy expands the definition of children’s environmental health to include not only conception, infancy, adolescence, and early adulthood, but also the impact that early exposures may have later in life. This policy also reinforces the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to equity and threats to children’s health caused by climate change.

Background

The 1997 Executive Order instructed all federal agencies to “make it a high priority to identify and assess environmental health risks and safety risks that may disproportionately affect children;” and “ensure that its policies, programs, activities, and standards address disproportionate risks to children that result from environmental health or safety risks.” This order brought increased federal focus on the crucial topic of children’s health, the foundation of all people’s growth and development.

The Executive Order also established the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children, a cabinet level group of 17 agencies and departments co-chaired by EPA Administrator Regan and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. The principals of the Task Force met in October 2021 to renew the federal commitment to the goals of the interagency workgroup. The Task Force leverages each Agency’s unique expertise to address issues such as childhood asthma disparities, lead poisoning, and climate and disasters, and exposure of children to pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

To commemorate the past 25 years of children’s health at EPA, OCHP Director Jeanne Briskin published an EPA Perspectives article on children’s environmental health. It includes resources for parents, caregivers and teachers on protecting children from environmental threats where they live, learn and play. Director Briskin also hosted a discussion with former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, current deputy EPA Administrator Janet McCabe and Ramona Trovato, the first OCHP Director, to discuss EPA’s work to protect children’s health. The discussion highlighted key milestones that influenced how EPA protects children from environmental exposures, actions to protect children’s health in the future, and emerging children’s environmental health issues. View the discussion broadcast.

America’s Children and the Environment, a useful tool for evaluating children’s environmental health, was recently updated with the latest data and enhanced the online features. The update features a modernized digital format to analyze trends, download data, inform decisions to improve children’s health, and identify ways to minimize environmental impacts on children. EPA has maintained this data for nearly 20 years and will continue to add additional updates in the years to come.

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