The Trump budget is an unprecedented and dangerous assault on public health, proposing cuts to EPA that would result in more asthma attacks for our children, increased risks for cancer, and more pollution in our communities.
Proposed Trump Budget is an Assault on Public Health
At its core, the Environmental Protection Agency is a public health agency. It protects the air we breathe and the water we drink from contaminants that result in disease, cause cancer, and harm children. A well functioning EPA would prevent toxic chemicals from being used in the water we drink, the food we eat, and the products we use.
But that’s not the kind of EPA the proposed Trump budget would fund. President Trump’s proposed budget released in late May singles out EPA for the deepest cuts of any federal agency. It eliminates more than 50 environmental protection programs and cuts EPA funding by 31 percent, $2.6 billion. It cuts 25 percent of EPA’s staff, losing 3,800 scientists, researchers, enforcement staff, and more. Adjusted for inflation, EPA’s budget would plummet to levels not seen since the 1970s.
In Maine, these radical cuts would cripple the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Last year DEP received $11.4 million in funding from EPA, which supported nearly 100 Maine staff members with critical jobs protecting our state’s environment.
The Trump budget is an unprecedented and dangerous assault on public health, proposing cuts that would result in more asthma attacks for our children, increased risks for cancer, and more pollution in our communities.
In my work, I have seen what happens when environmental health protections are dropped. I have had to sit down with a mother and explain to her that her infant boy is lead poisoned. I have had to explain how a toxic substance in her home—one known for more than 100 years to be dangerous—may cause her son difficulties in learning as well as behavior problems as he grows older. Lead poisoning is linked to learning disabilities, speech delay, aggressive behavior, and other developmental difficulties.
Similar conversations happen daily in our state and our nation. In Maine alone, nearly 300 Maine children under the age of six tested positive for lead poisoning in 2015, even though lead poisoning is preventable.
Yet the Trump budget completely zeroes out EPA’s funding for states to administer programs to train and certify professionals to identify and fix lead hazards in homes, so that children and families in Maine and nationwide won’t suffer the consequences of lead poisoning.
The administration’s budget also eliminates efforts to ensure clean indoor air, which typically is more contaminated than outdoor air. Most people, and especially young children, spend nearly all of their time indoors.
A prime indoor-air contaminant is Radon, which most Mainers test for when buying a home. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that builds up indoors. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Ten percent of the approximately 1,300 Mainers diagnosed every year with lung cancer likely have radon to blame.
President Trump’s budget to address this? Zero dollars.
Children are especially vulnerable to hazardous chemicals in their environment. Their rapidly developing brains are more susceptible to chemicals and their growing bodies take in more air, food, and water, relative to their size. Yet, the safety of most chemicals used in the American marketplace was assessed based on their harm to adult men.
So why does the Trump budget proposal put on the chopping block an EPA initiative to assess health risks to a far more vulnerable group, babies and young children?
The Endocrine Disrupter Screening program helps identify, understand, and address the risks to babies and young children from various toxic chemicals that mimic hormones and not only lead to birth defects, but are increasingly found to interfere with brain development in children, leading to lower IQs and lost potential.
In talk about budget numbers it’s important to remember that prevention is less expensive than treatment. Keeping chemicals and pollutants out of our air, water, and products we use costs a fraction of treating the disabilities, illness, and cancers that otherwise result.
We shouldn’t be robbing our children of their future potential to save less than 1/10 of one percent of the federal budget, which is what the proposed Trump budget cuts to EPA amount to.
In truth, there are even more cuts proposed than I’ve listed that would significantly harm public heath. The impact of this budget, if not radically altered by Congress, will be a decrease in the health of our children and our families, now, throughout our lifetimes, and into future generations.
–Patrick MacRoy is deputy director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and a former epidemiologist, with a focus on children’s environmental health, for both the State of Rhode Island and the City of Chicago.