House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued the following statement at a Capitol Hill news conference today announcing that she introduced legislation last night called the Nationwide Health Tracking Act of 2002. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Harry Reid (D-NV), who are introducing companion legislation in the Senate, joined her at the news conference, as did Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).
Thank you everyone for joining us today. First, I would like to thank Senators Clinton and Reid for their leadership on health tracking in the Senate. I would also like to thank Representatives Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Louise Slaughter, and Peter King who have joined me in introducing the bipartisan Nationwide Health Tracking Act of 2002 in the House.
I commend the Trust for Americas Health for its good work, under the leadership of our former colleague Louis Stokes, to highlight the need for a nationwide system to track the relationship between disease and potentially associated environmental factors.
Currently, there is no nationwide system to meet this need. Tracking programs that do exist at the state and local levels are a patchwork due to the lack of agreed-upon minimum standards or requirements for environmental health tracking.
Last year, my colleagues and I worked to secure $17.5 million for pilot programs to begin developing the capacity for comprehensive health tracking. I am pleased to announce that we have expanded on the pilot programs by introducing the Nationwide Health Tracking Act of 2002.
The legislation will create a nationwide health tracking network to collect, analyze, and report data on the rate of chronic disease and the presence of relevant environmental factors and exposures. 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.
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 nearly 5 million. And 8,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year.
In my hometown of San Francisco, we have been alarmed by all the health problems that are happening in the Bayview Hunters Point area. Over in Marin County, breast cancer rates have increased a shocking 60 percent over the past decade. 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.
This is really an issue of environmental justice. Minority and low-income communities are also 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.
We must respond to these health threats. We can protect the earths environment and the health of our children by increasing our efforts to address environmental health concerns in a comprehensive manner. I look forward to working with my colleagues to enact this vital legislation.