SPRINGFIELD – In an effort to protect Illinois’ children from harmful environmental hazards, Gov. Blagojevich signed legislation today that will streamline state efforts and provide vital information to parents with questions about a variety of environmental hazards. House Bill 4067 will establish a Children’s Environmental Health Officer under the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to coordinate with all state agencies involved in environmental issues related to children.
“Children are more at risk to be harmed by hazardous materials than adults. Kids are smaller, and they get closer to dangers by playing in dirt, crawling around on dusty floors or playing in creeks. This effort will help parents, educators and caregivers have an easier time knowing how to protect their children from environmental hazards,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
The Children’s Environmental Health Officer will serve as the chief advisor to the Director of Public Health on matters relating to environmental protection concerning children. The position will require working with boards, departments and other offices within the Department in assessing the effectiveness of statutes, rules and programs designed to protect children from environmental hazards. The officer will also coordinate research, regulatory efforts and data collection with other state agencies such as, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
“While our Department works with other state agencies to provide helpful information on environmental concerns like lead poisoning, West Nile virus, and pesticide use, this law will create a more centralized approach when collecting data and implementing programs,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “This environmental health officer will allow state agencies to best coordinate efforts to ensure parents and caregivers are effectively informed about potential hazards and how they can protect children from toxic exposures.”
Some of the responsibilities of the environmental health officer include:
· Evaluate and reduce childhood exposures to dangerous materials at hazardous waste sites, from chemical releases, in schools, at home and from illegal methamphetamine labs.
· Target parents and children with environmental health educational messages.
· Inform education personnel about ways to reduce childhood exposures in schools, especially in the areas of pesticide use and school chemical storage.
· Continue to collect and analyze data on birth defects and childhood cancers.
· Explore asthma triggers and effects as well as support statewide asthma prevention initiatives.
· Ensure recreational facilities, public swimming pools, campgrounds, and youth camps are safe for children.
· Help schools practice effective food safety procedures.
House Bill 4067 was sponsored by Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) and Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago).
"I am pleased that the Governor is signing this important legislation and giving the children of Illinois the protection they deserve," said Rep. May. "As children's bodies develop and grow, they are more susceptible than adults to a number of conditions that can greatly reduce their quality of life and, in some cases, can be fatal. Just as we have an office to monitor women's health and minority health, now our children can be extended the same vigilance."
“We want to make sure the right people on environmental advisory boards, state and federal agencies and those directly involved in programs associated with children and the environment have the opportunity to weigh in on how to continue to protect children from the variety of air, water and soil hazards that are in our environment,” said Sen. Hunter.
Under the new law, the Children’s Environmental Health Officer will produce a report to the General Assembly and the Governor on January 1, 2007 and biannually following that date. The report will include information on progress made by programs within the Department to address children’s environmental health issues.