Today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representatives Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY), introduced the Coordinated Environmental Public Health Network Act of 2007. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced identical legislation in the Senate last week.
This legislation would establish a national public health tracking network to allow for the detection and identification of possible connections between adverse health effects and environmental hazards, and increase funding for locally-based pilot projects to address environmental health concerns. It would also increase funding for biomonitoring work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which tracks exposure levels to common chemicals.
"Approximately seven out of 10 deaths in the United States are linked to chronic disease. Exposure to air pollution and harmful chemicals has been linked to many of these illnesses, including asthma, cancer and neurological disorders," said Pelosi. "In California, for example, more than 33 million people live in areas where high levels of air pollution pose health risks, and breast cancer rates in San Francisco are among the highest in the country. This legislation will give public health officials the tools they need to determine the impact of environmental pollutants, and to intervene where appropriate."
"This is really an issue of environmental justice," said Rep. Tubbs Jones. "Minority and low-income communities are particularly vulnerable to environmental health hazards. The factories and dumping sites that emit pollutants are often located near communities with less political and economic power, and therefore less ability to protest. The result is an elevated risk of exposure to harmful substances."
"Many chronic diseases are on the rise. Asthma, for example, increased 76 percent nationwide between 1984 and 2003," said Rep. Slaughter. "Identifying pollutants that cause diseases and reducing harmful exposures will save lives and save our health care system billions of dollars each year. What's more, it is our responsibility to do all we can to provide our children and future generations with the knowledge and tools they need to protect them from these ailments."
Over the past six years, Congress has allocated nearly $150 million for pilot programs to begin developing the capacity for a Coordinated Environmental Public Health Network. The CDC has used these funds to implement three sets of pilot grants focused on building state and local capacity to track environmental exposures and adverse health outcomes. These projects have included efforts to identify environmental health problems and to link, through standardization of electronic data elements, disparate sets of existing health data with data on environmental hazards. Funds have also gone toward research on the impact of environmental exposures on human health, as well as dissemination of best practices to additional jurisdictions interested in environmental health tracking. These pilot projects are giving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency the information they need to put in place the comprehensive, coordinated network created by this legislation.
Once fully operational, the network would coordinate national, state and local efforts to inform communities, public health officials, researchers and policymakers of potential environmental health risks, and integrate this information with other parts of the public health system.
This legislation is supported by over 40 health and environmental groups, including Trust for America's Health, the Breast Cancer Fund, American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, and the Association of Public Health Laboratories.