Remarks for Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the National Academy of Sciences Workshop Washington, D.C. December 5, 2002
Thank you Dr. (Bill) Colglazier for that introduction.
I'm pleased to be here today to discuss the impact our environment has on the health and quality of life of older Americans.
Fifteen years ago, the National Academy of Science issued a landmark study that discovered sound biological reasons to support the belief that the effect of the environment on people changes with age, as does the ability to respond to environmental exposures.
I commend the Academy for its efforts on this issue over the years, and I want to thank them for hosting this important workshop to more fully examine the environmental issues that affect older Americans and to assist in developing a National Agenda on the Environment and Aging.
Our country is undergoing a dramatic demographic transformation. By mid-century, our population over 65 will have more than doubled from today. There is no doubt that the rapid growth of the senior population, coupled with the fact that older Americans are more vulnerable to environmental hazards, make this a population that deserves special attention.
As a result, during my tenure at EPA we have made protecting the health of older Americans a top priority. The older we are, the more susceptible we become to threats from the environment, which may cause or worsen chronic or life-threatening conditions.
Poor indoor air quality as well as ozone and particulate matter in outdoor air, exacerbate respiratory conditions, trigger asthma attacks, and limit activity levels. Older immune systems are also less able to fight off waterborne microbes such as cryptosporidium and e-coli.
In order to study and prioritize environmental health risks such as these, EPA launched an Aging Initiative in October.
The initiative encompasses the following three areas:
1) Research and develop preventative actions to address environmental health threats.
2) Research to address the impact a rapidly aging society will have on the environment.
3) Encourage older Americans to volunteer in their communities to help reduce environmental hazards and protect the environment for persons of all ages.
One of the first things we did when we began to develop this initiative is look within our own agency to determine what research had already been done or was underway. We compiled an inventory of 75 projects dealing with aging related research scattered throughout the Agency. One of the main purposes of this new initiative will be to consolidate those efforts and develop a more unified approach to our research.
We've also developed a strong foundation of encouraging senior volunteers to help with environmental efforts in their communities. Our nation's senior population is one of our most precious natural resources, and we will continue our work to find new ways to increase their involvement and utilize their skills to help make our communities healthier and safer.
While this is a good start, there is much more that can be done, and the Aging Initiative will help us focus our efforts, integrate our research throughout the entire Agency, and partner with other interested groups so that we can best meet these environmental challenges.
Indeed, to be successful in our efforts, we need the help of dedicated partners. I'm pleased to announce today that even at this early stage we are already closely collaborating with two institutes within the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.
In addition, to further the volunteerism component of our Aging Initiative, we are looking at ways to partner with the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is administering President Bush's Freedom Corps.
This is just the beginning, and we will continue to seek partners within the federal government and beyond as we move forward with this initiative.
During the next year, we will be crafting a National Agenda on the Environment and Aging, and this workshop is the first step in that process. Over the next two days, we are asking for your suggestions, expertise, and ideas as we work to shape this national agenda and prepare for a series of public meetings on this issue.
The public meetings to be held in Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Iowa, Texas, and the Washington, D.C. area, are designed to ensure that all voices are heard across a broad spectrum of stakeholders that include state and local governments, aging and health professionals, and older Americans and their families.
Only by opening up this process and encouraging this type of active participation can we expect to gain a more complete understanding of the environmental health issues of most concern to the elderly and the most effective ways to address those issues.
Your work here will help lay the groundwork for those meetings and is critical to their success. Each of you brings a unique set of experiences and ideas to the table, and I know that this workshop will yield valuable insight and direction to our efforts.
The challenge we face is to improve the quality of life for all older Americans, and I want to thank you for your participation and willingness to help meet that challenge.
Working together we can ensure that for all older Americans the years ahead are indeed golden and that the future is one of environmental health and security.