From the Office of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi Introduces Legislation to Strengthen Public Health System’s Response to Environmental Pollutants

October 8, 2004

Washington, D.C. -- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was joined today by Representatives Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Louise Slaughter, and Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Harry Reid, and Lincoln Chafee, in introducing bipartisan legislation to improve our public health system’s ability to respond to environmental hazards.  Leader Pelosi issued the following statement on the introduction of the Coordinated Environmental Health Network Act:

“Environmental contaminants have been linked to births defects, developmental delays, and many chronic diseases including asthma, various forms of cancer, and neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Multiple Sclerosis. 

“Research shows that women and children are at especially high risk for health problems related to environmental factors.  Each year, 4 percent of all births -- more than 150,000 babies -- are born with significant birth defects. The number of children with asthma has doubled in the past 15 years to about 5 million. And more than 8,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year.

“We do not understand the long-term health effects of the vast majority of the approximately 80,000 chemicals have been released into the environment over the past 50 years and the more than 7 billion pounds of chemicals that are released each year by industrial facilities in the U.S.  While many chemicals do not cause damage, we need to know which ones do.

“In my hometown of San Francisco , breast cancer rates are more than 12 percent higher than they were 15 years ago.  These rates are significantly higher than the rest of the nation, and public health officials are searching for answers.  We must understand what could be causing such a dramatic rise, especially when three out of four women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of cancer or other known risk factors. For these women, environmental factors may be the link to their cancer.

“Improved infrastructure that enables local, state and federal public health agencies to monitor disease rates and environmental hazards is needed.  However, there is no system in place that explores the relationship between diseases and potentially associated environmental factors. 

“Today, I am joined by Representatives Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Louise Slaughter, and Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Harry Reid, and Lincoln Chafee, in introducing the Coordinated Environmental Health Network Act to respond to this urgent need by creating the infrastructure necessary to collect, analyze, and report data on the rate of disease and the presence of relevant environmental factors and exposures. 

“The Network would also coordinate national, state, and local efforts to bolster our public health system’s capacity to investigate and respond aggressively to environmental exposures that threaten health.  In addition, the Coordinated Environmental Health Network will alert health officials when there is a sudden increase in any disease or condition, including those associated with a biological or chemical attack.

“Over the past three years, my colleagues and I have worked to secure more than $73 million for pilot programs to begin developing the capacity for a Coordinated Environmental Health Network, with an additional $28 million pending in the Fiscal Year 2005 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations bill.  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 a comprehensive, coordinated network.

“Once fully operational, the network will coordinate national, state, and local efforts to inform communities, public health officials, researchers, and policymakers of potential environmental health risks, and to integrate this information with other parts of the public health system.

“This is really an issue of environmental justice.  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 little political and economic power, and therefore less ability to protest. The result is an elevated risk of exposure to harmful substances.

“Numerous public health and environmental organizations understand the need for an improved response to these threats, and the Coordinated Environmental Health Network Act is supported by the Trust for America’s Health, American Public Health Association, Citizens for a Cleaner Environment, March of Dimes, American Lung Association, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, The Breast Cancer Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and many others.

“We must respond to these health threats in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. To take action to prevent disease we must understand its cause.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to enact this vital legislation.”

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