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In response to- Environmental Illness In Children Costs $76.6 Billion Annually

posted Sep 12, 2011, 8:32 PM by Nancy Swan   [ updated Sep 29, 2011, 11:31 PM ]
Nancy Swan's response to,
"Environmental Illness In Children Costs $76.6 Billion Annually" Health Affairs Blog,

May 4th, 2011
by Chris Fleming

President Obama's speech in support of his proposed American Jobs Act promised to increase jobs through improving US infrastructures, including schools, without sacrificing worker safety.  Obama also promised to fix the Social Security System.  Unfortunately, there are two potentially fatal flaws in both proposals that are tied by subject matter to the article referenced above, "“Environmental Illness In Children Costs $76.6 Billion Annually.”

U.S. Workers already have safety standards and regulations to insure their safety through OSHA and NIOSH.  In stark contrast, United States children have none.  It is poor government policy that does not acknowledge the U.S. EPA findings that children, whose organs and brains are still forming, are more vulnerable to harm and injury from environmental and chemical hazards. 

Everyday, children are exposed to and harmed by nearby renovation, construction, and maintenance from unsafe practices in manufacture, storage, transport, on-site storage of products as well as fumes, off-gassing, and contact with unsafe products and poorly maintained structures.  Children spend most of their time in schools where they are injured by poor indoor air environment, mold, outdoor pollution, fumes, off-gassing, over-spray and unsafe practices and products used in renovation and construction.   Demolition can release mold spores and asbestos.

In 1985, I was seriously and permanently injured while teaching in Long Beach School District in Mississippi.  High fuel prices promoted national policies encouraging energy efficiency and a promise to fix our schools.  I witnessed the tragedy of many children who also became very sick from the spray on foam roofing insulation and sealant.   I became too sick to work, and lost my job.  Children and teachers are in more danger now than when I was injured.  One-third of the cleaners used in schools contain cancer-causing chemicals.  More than one-half of U.S. schools are deemed by the EPA as unsafe for children due to poor indoor air quality, caused by pollution, environmental, and chemical hazards.

Few realize that occupants of a building: teachers, children, and other occupants of buildings and schools, are non-workers and therefore as bystanders are not covered by safety standards and regulations.  Even fewer realize that "safe" only applies to the effect on a healthy, grown, male, worker.  Children and bystanders are not provided protection.  Worse, school officials who make decisions that lead to environmental or chemical harm to teachers and children are either protected from accountability or are not made accountable for health costs.  

The second flaw is in President Obama's promise to fix the Social Security System.  The strain on the Social Security system is not just from those drawing benefits at 65.  Social Security also provides for those who have been disabled, many of whom became disabled by environmental and chemical exposure and injury as a child.   The children of those who are disabled by poor safety and lack of safety standards and regulations also draw on the Social Security Disability System.  For the disabled, SSD is barely enough to cover co payments for prescription and medical costs and often leads to medicare or burdens on other social programs.

Culpable companies should be paying for the disabilities they cause, not the Social Security program, nor other social programs.   Perhaps Social Security can bolstered by an additional tax on insurance companies who insure companies with an unsafe record and fines for businesses and corporations with a record for unsafe practices. 

Writer Chris Fleming points out that in 2008, the $76.6 billion price tag for "poor childhood health caused by environmental factors, such as air pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals. . .represents a dramatic increase.  President Obama's promise of more jobs does not have to mean a creating a poor environment for workers and children, nor does the explosion of new untested chemicals on the market have to sentence many children, particularly the poor and racial minorities, to a life time of pain, sickness, and death and result in doom for the Social Security System.

President Obama's proposals flaws do not have to be fatal.   The answer to the question posed by President Obama is "yes, 'we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.'"  To help our economy, child safety standards and regulations could be developed, and should be provided to school and business decision makers, contractors, and others.  With sufficient funding for education and effective oversight accomplish many of the goals set by Obama's presidency, including improvement of educational performance.   Protecting children from environmental and chemical hazards, especially at school, should be a priority and requisite to creating jobs and to an imperative to saving the Social Security System, and the economy.  

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