Children are no longer a fundamental American value

As a little girl, my dollhouse was my second home, filled with the dream family I wished to have one day.  It included twin daughters who were stars of the soccer team and a son was going to play for the San Francisco Giants. But as I have grown older, my excitement for having children has shifted to just plain anxiety. Not because of the responsibility, the lifestyle change, or the cost. As a children’s environmental health professional, I fear for my future children’s health.

Children were once a fundamental American value protected by our government. The establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and passage of major clean air and water laws helped put children’s health first. Today, however, the Trump administration’s promise to deregulate has included rolling back public health protections for some of our nation’s most vulnerable populations –pregnant women, babies, and children.

Since President Trump’s first days in office, he quickly showed that public health was no longer a priority with his appointment of Scott Pruitt. Upon confirmation, Pruitt swiftly began his deregulatory agenda against children’s environmental health. In March 2017, he canceled the scheduled ban on chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic pesticide that affects developing children most prominently. Then he repealed the Clean Power Plan, a policy estimated to save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks by 2030. In the name of “efficiency”, he announced the closure of the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER), the office responsible for studying the impact of toxic chemicals on children in February 2018.

When scandals forced Pruitt to resign, Andrew Wheeler was named acting administrator in July 2018. At first, Wheeler’s appointment appeared to be a glimmer of hope for children’s health. While Wheeler does have a history with the coal industry, he also had a long previous tenure at the EPA, instilling the values of public health. Or so we thought. In September 2018, Wheeler abruptly dismissed EPA’s top children’s health official, Dr. Ruth Etzel. A children’s environmental health leader for 30 years, Dr. Etzel was placed on administrative leave with no explanation.

The dismissal of a trusted pediatrician and epidemiologist like Dr. Etzel raises serious questions for children’s environmental health professionals. Who will lead the Office of Children’s Health Protection? Will there still even be an Office of Children’s Health Protection? Who will protect our children?

And now, the government’s commitment to children’s environmental health research, which informs policy and improves the quality of life for children, is at stake. Our nation’s Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers are in danger of being permanently shuttered due to lack of funding from EPA. Center directors from 12 world-renowned universities, including mine, are pleading with EPA to continue funding the Children’s Centers programs so their critical work can continue. This work includes studying how pesticides, air and water pollution, and toxic chemicals in everyday products affect children’s health and development.

When the government entities designed to protect our most vulnerable are failing in their missions, it is time to speak up for children at the polls. This means supporting candidates who are committed to clean air, clean water, and protecting children – and all of us – from the toxic chemicals. Please vote November 6 for health and for our children. My future children are depending on you.

About the author

DanielleDanielle Fries, MPH, is a special guest contributor to the blog.  She has a background in environmental health, toxicology, and risk assessment with an MPH from University of Michigan and BS from UC Davis. Danielle was an ORISE fellow with the Contaminants Assessment Branch at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.