In April 1997, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13045, establishing the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children (Task Force).
Childhood represents a series of vulnerable life stages. Children are critically vulnerable because their neurological, immunological, digestive, and other bodily systems are still developing. Therefore, exposures during childhood may have profound and long-term consequences that are not completely understood. Children eat more food, drink more fluids, and breathe more air in proportion to their body weight than adults. As children explore their environment, crawling and making hand-to-mouth contact, the risk of encountering harmful exposures is high. Because of children’s unique vulnerabilities to the potential health effects of environmental exposures, it is imperative that we better understand and protect their wellbeing by creating and preserving a healthy environment. Furthermore, there are significant disparities in health outcomes across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status. Some children, including those in racial and ethnic minority groups and those living in poverty, bear a disproportionate burden of exposures to environmental hazards that may negatively affect their health and wellbeing over the course of their lives.
In 1997, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13045, calling for each federal agency to “ensure that its policies, programs, activities, and standards address disproportionate risks to children that result from environmental health risks or safety risks.” EO13045 established the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children (Task Force).
The Task Force has addressed issues such as childhood asthma, unintentional injuries, lead poisoning, developmental disorders, childhood cancer, and climate change. The Task Force also recommended the initiation of a prospective cohort study, from birth to adulthood, to evaluate the effects of both environmental exposures on child health and human development. This effort became the National Children’s Study, which has now been transformed into the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program.
At the beginning of the Obama Administration, an interdepartmental working group of senior staff was established to support the work of the Task Force—the Senior Staff Steering Committee (Steering Committee). The Steering Committee serves as a source of information and provides a forum for government and non-government officials to interact. It is co-chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
While there have been laudable efforts to assess and address the environmental health and safety risks to children, including the work of the Task Force, considerable disparities in health outcomes persist, and there is still a need for a coordinated federal effort to address these disparities. The Task Force plays a critical role in the coordination of efforts to identify research needs and priorities that impact children’s environmental health, as well as to maximize the productivity of research resources to benefit children. In particular, increased awareness of emerging environmental health risks, such as new materials and chemicals in commercial use and climate change impacts on children, present complex challenges that may be best answered through coordinated efforts.
The Task Force brings a number of valuable assets and benefits to tackling the issues of environmental health risks to children and to identifying and implementing strategies to promote children’s health resilience.
Working together through the Task Force, the federal government can continue to protect current and future generations by understanding and preventing negative environmental health impacts and helping to ensure opportunities for the development of healthy, more resilient children.
The list below includes member agencies named in the original Executive Order, as well as additional ones that now actively participate in the Task Force.