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Environmental Factor, November 2015

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President’s task force recommits to children’s environmental health

McCarthy and Burwell

McCarthy, left, and Burwell co-chair the task force, which considers ways to reduce a wide range of threats to children’s environmental health. (Photo courtesy of Chris Smith, HHS)

The President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children met Oct. 14 at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C., to review its accomplishments and recommit its members to continuing to work together to meet its goals.

President Bill Clinton established the task force in 1997, by Executive Order 13045. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, whose departments co-chair the task force, led the meeting of 17 federal agencies and offices.

Key players from NIEHS

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., serves on the task force and spoke at the meeting. “The task force brings together federal agencies charged with ensuring children’s environmental health,” said Birnbaum, “and NIEHS has played, and will continue to play, a critical role in its efforts.”

John Bucher, PhD, director of the National Toxicology Program Division serves as chair of the Chemicals Subcommittee and Kimberly Thigpen Tart, J.D., program analyst in the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation serves as co-chair of the Climate Change Subcommittee.  Both helped plan the meeting and also attended. Other NIEHS staff regularly contribute to the Task Force Steering Committee.

Achievements recognized

The task force integrates the activities of four subcommittees focused on asthma disparities, healthy settings, chemical risks, and climate change. Together, they work to accomplish the goals set out by the executive order, including:

  • Identifying priority risks and issues.
  • Developing strategies.
  • Recommending and implementing interagency actions.
  • Communicating information to decision makers for use in protecting children’s environmental health and safety.

Achievements of the task force include development of a Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities . The action plan aims to reduce the burden of asthma in minority children and those with family incomes below the poverty level.

The task force also provided guidance to the Federal Healthy Homes Work Group in the development of its plan, “ Advancing Healthy Housing — A Strategy for Action .”

Other achievements include identification of cross-agency biospecimen resources, to support measuring children’s chemical exposures, and consulting on the impacts of climate change on children’s environmental health, to inform a U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate and Health Assessment .

A new work plan to guide the group’s efforts over the next year and into the future is in development and should be finalized by early next year.

The task force

The task force includes 17 federal agencies, and most were represented at the meeting. McCarthy and Burwell, center of front row, were flanked by Birnbaum, left of McCarthy; Bucher, behind McCarthy; Thigpen Tart, third from right; and John Balbus, M.D., NIEHS senior advisor for public health, who also attended, back row, right. (Photo courtesy of DHHS)

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