The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose mission is to protect human health and the environment, sets and enforces regulations to ensure safe environments where we work, learn, play, and pray. When regulations are set to protect the most vulnerable among us, we can be reasonably sure that those regulations will also protect all of us. This is why considering children’s health in all regulatory standards is of the utmost importance. Children are not little adults. Their bodies and organs are still developing, they are lower to the ground, various developmental stages put them at higher risk of exposure to toxics, and they are reliant on caregivers for shelter and care. When we set standards that protect kids, we’re giving them the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential while also protecting everyone else.
EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP), established in 1997 through Executive Order 13045, is tasked to ensure that all EPA actions and programs address the unique vulnerabilities of children. It is no small task to monitor and provide recommendations to all of EPA’s rulemaking. Air, water, and soil may all be regulated under different statutes, but kids get into all of it.
And yet, presently the office is down to almost half its original staff (now only 9 people) and 1/3 of the budget it had 25 years ago.As the EPA works to align its mission with the four overarching priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration – COVID, climate change, racial inequity, and the economy – it is critical for OCHP to be fully funded and include staffing levels that allow it to fully achieve its expansive, critical mission. It will be particularly important to center children’s health as the Biden EPA puts forth and enforces climate solutions. Children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and disproportionately suffer from physical and mental health and safety harms related to our changing climate. They are more sensitive to climate-fueled impacts, such as extreme heat, air pollution, water-borne diseases, vector-borne disease, as well as ecoanxiety. All of these impacts are compounded and exacerbated by systemic racism and economic inequities. Children’s health expertise will be a necessary resource in setting the course for climate action.
We both have spent extensive time working with OCHP: Leyla as an appointed member of the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee and Board Member of the Children’s Environmental Health Network and Rebecca as part of an environmental health fellowship with OCHP. So, we both can attest to the importance of the office and its mission. Dedicating the capacity and resources for OCHP to fully execute its mission will build the foundation for safer and healthier environments for all of us.
Leyla McCurdy is a Board Member of the Children’s Environmental Health Network and Chair of the Climate for Health Leadership Circle & Rebecca Rehr is the Director of Climate for Health at ecoAmerica.
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