Statement Of Dr. Laurence Branch
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
April 3, 2003
Professor of Epidemiology
College of Public Health, USF
Good afternoon. My name is Larry Branch and I am a professor in the College of Public Health and it is a pleasure to welcome you to this historic and inaugural listening session. When I was Dean of the School of Public Health, I was elated that Administrator Whitman and her staff took the initiative to clarify the overlapping interests of those who accept responsibility in the United States for maximizing the quality of the environment, those who accept the responsibility for maximizing the health of the public and for those who accept responsibility for maximizing the quality of life of our senior citizens. Likewise, I was grateful in December 2002 when the Institute of Medicine kicked off a review of the scientific basis for actions that can be initiated and implemented during the tenure of Administrator Whitman. I was grateful to be asked to address - at the Institute of Medicine - the intersection of public health and the environment. Now that the University of South Florida College of Public Health has the opportunity to provide the first venue for a listening session held by the Environmental Protection Agency I am grateful to all organizations and people who seized the opportunity to bring us together today. I am still elated that the topic is being addressed, ratified and that I was asked to write a context to welcome you all to the South Florida College of Public Health.
Let me take another moment to provide you with a perspective for this first group. From the perspective of the environment, we take into account all the chemistry elements that my old high school chemistry teacher told me: "treasure the earth, water, air and fire." Now, of course, fire is the term for emergency preparedness and disaster management. From the perspective of aging, we need to realize that the experience of aging is the experience of reduction of reserved capacity. When we are younger we recover quickly from injuries. Our bodies respond and repair our cardiac capacity, lung and kidney functions. Our reserve capacities bring us back to equilibrium quite quickly when we are stressed. In older age, we experience a reduction in reserved capacities. So the same environmental assaults that we could have responded to, without any real difficulty when we were thirty, are now serious threats when we are eighty. Just remember that the few deaths from anthrax inhalation that occurred in the United States were all of older people and that the best estimates of their exposures were well, well below what had been considered the threshold for lethal exposures.