The U.S. EPA: Helping Kids Breathe Easier Since 1970

Boy sitting next to lake
Credit: Pixabay/Creative Commons

It’s easy to get lost in the details of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s work, but there’s nothing hard to understand about their mission: “to protect human health and the environment.” Although the agency aims to serve all Americans, the EPA recognizes that children are particularly susceptible to the health effects of toxic chemicals and dirty air and water. 

You’ve probably seen photos of kids attempting to play in the dangerously polluted air of cities in India and China. These images are disturbing, but they’re also a good reminder of the health protections we have in the United States. Although 166 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution, the overall quality of our air has dramatically improved since the 1970s­. This is thanks in large part to bipartisan laws passed by Congress—and the EPA’s implementation of those laws.

The EPA has taken a number of concrete actions over the last two decades to strengthen health protections for children, including pollution standards for vehicles, power plants, and industrial and agricultural operations. For example, the agency strengthened our nation’s lead air quality standards in 2008. Lead, which gets into the air though sources like waste incinerators and small airplanes, can damage the hearing of children and result in behavioral and learning problems. Lead pollution most seriously harms kids under the age of seven.

The EPA has also established new limits on climate-changing pollution from vehicles, oil and gas operations, and power plants. Children are especially vulnerable to many of the health threats of climate change—including mental health disturbances after a weather disaster, food-borne illnesses, and heat-related illnesses

The incoming Trump Administration could stop this progress to a cleaner, healthier future in its tracks—and in fact has repeatedly threatened to do so. Most American voters support limits on climate-changing pollution and would oppose efforts by the president-elect to remove those limits. And yet, President-elect Trump has stacked his wish list for EPA leadership with climate deniers and the friends of big polluters. 

As NRDC’s president Rhea Suh put it, “Nobody voted for dirty water and air.” We may just have to keep reminding the new president and Congress of that, until they get the message. 

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