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Chapter 2 - Clean Air, Safe Water, Healthy Communities

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Earth Day 2000

Clean Air, Safe Water, Healthy Communities

Photo: President Clinton Speaking at Maury Elementary School, Washington, D.C.
"As we embark on a new millennium...surely it is our sacred oligation to ensure that each and every child, from the first breath on, will be drawing the cleanest, purest, healthiest air we can provide."
President Bill Clinton
December 21, 1999
Photo: Maury Elementary School, Washington, D.C.,










Thirty years ago, city skylines were disappearing behind a veil of smog, and many of America's rivers were open sewers, so polluted they sometimes burst into flame. In barely over a generation, we have reversed decades of degradation. Tens of millions more Americans now have clean air and drinking water. Twice as many of our rivers and lakes are now safe for fishing and swimming. We have cut lead levels in our children's blood by 70 percent, and toxic emissions from factories by nearly half.

President Clinton and Vice President Gore have launched a new generation of environmental and public health protections to continue this progress and to meet new challenges unforeseen in 1970. Under their leadership, the Administration has adopted the toughest clean air standards ever; strengthened drinking water protections; accelerated toxic waste cleanups; expanded our communities' right to know about toxic releases; and taken special steps against environmental health risks to children.

Together, these measures are helping to move America closer to the day when we can fulfill every citizens' right to clean air, safer water, and a healthy neighborhood.

Cleaning Up Auto Emissions

Last December, President Clinton took the boldest steps in a generation to improve air quality and protect public health by reducing pollution from cars and other vehicles.

Chart: Automobile Emission Standards
Source: U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency
Although air pollution has been cut 30 percent since 1970, even as economic output has more than doubled, these gains are threatened because Americans drive more than ever and increasingly favor higher-polluting SUVs, minivans and other light-duty trucks. To keep America on track to meeting its air quality goals, the President announced tough new tailpipe emissions standards that will produce the cleanest cars ever — and for the first time require SUVs and minivans to meet the same pollution standards as passenger cars. The new measures, to be phased in from 2004 to 2009, also will reduce sulfur levels in gasoline by 90 percent.

When fully implemented, these measures will result in cars that are 77 percent cleaner and light-duty trucks that are up to 95 percent cleaner than those on the road today — the equivalent of removing 164 million cars from the road. Improved air quality will prevent up to 4,300 premature deaths and 173,000 cases of childhood respiratory illness each year.

Tough Standards for Soot and Smog

Chart: Population in Areas Meeting Air Quality Standards
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards
In 1997, after exhaustive scientific study, the Administration adopted strong new national standards for soot and smog — two air pollutants that pose significant health risks for millions of Americans. Soot, or particulate matter, comes largely from power plants and industrial facilities. Smog, or ground-level ozone, is the haze of chemicals from car exhausts and smoke-stack emissions that shrouds many cities on hot summer days. The new standards set broad national goals to guide other federal air quality efforts and to guide states in developing strong, enforceable air quality plans. The standards could prevent up to 15,000 premature deaths a year and improve the lives of millions who suffer from respiratory illnesses. Although the new standards have been delayed by litigation, the Administration continues to pursue the case in court.

Safeguarding our Drinking Water

Chart: Population in Areas Meeting Drinking Water Standards

Source: U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency OCEPA

Americans enjoy the safest drinking water in the world. Ninety-one percent of Americans receive tap water from drinking water systems meeting federal public health standards. To ensure that our families have healthy, clean tap water, President Clinton proposed and signed legislation in 1996 to strengthen the Safe Drinking Water Act. In implementing the new law, the Administration has:

  • required America's 55,000 water utility companies to provide regular reports to their customers on the quality of their drinking water;

  • required improved filtration and monitoring of water systems nationwide to protect against cryptosporidium, other disease-causing microbes, and potentially harmful byproducts of the water treatment process, preventing up to 460,000 cases of waterborne illness a year, and;

  • secured funding for the new Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which to date has provided $1.9 billion in low-interest loans to help communities upgrade their water treatment systems.

Accelerating Toxic Waste Cleanups

Chart: Superfund Cleanups Completed
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency Office of Emergency and
Remedial Response
The Clinton-Gore Administration has dramatically accelerated the cleanup of the nation's worst toxic waste sites, freeing scores of communities from environmental threats and economic blight. Having inherited a flawed Superfund program mired in litigation, the Administration instituted three rounds of reforms to make cleanups faster, fairer, and more efficient. Since 1993, 515 cleanups have been completed — more than three times as many as in the previous 12 years. Cleanup is completed or underway at more than 90 percent of all Superfund sites. In this year's budget, President Clinton secured $1.4 billion to continue progress toward the Administration's goal of cleaning up 900 Superfund sites by 2002.

Strengthening the Public's Right to Know

Chart: Release of Toxic Chemicals
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pollution, Prevention, and Toxics. Using 1991 core set of 326 chemicals; the chemical list was expanded to approx. 641 in 1995.
One of the most powerful tools against pollution is information — letting people know what is being put into their environment. The Clinton-Gore Administration has taken several steps to expand communities' right to know about toxic releases to air, water and land.

The Administration has nearly doubled the number of chemicals subject to reporting, and expanded by 30 percent the number of facilities that must report. Last year, reporting requirements were strengthened for 27 "persistent bioaccumulative" chemicals like mercury, dioxin, and PCBs, which are especially risky because they do not break down easily and are known to accumulate in the human body. In addition, the Administration forged a partnership with the chemical industry and the environmental community to develop better data on the potential health effects of the 2,800 most widely used chemicals.

Ensuring Clean Waters Across America

President Clinton launched a major Clean Water Action Plan in 1998 to help fulfill the promise of the Clean Water Act — clean, healthy water for all Americans. To help clean up the almost 40 percent of America's surveyed waterways still too polluted for fishing and swimming, the plan targets the largest remaining threats to water quality: polluted runoff from farms and city streets. The five-year plan encourages community-based cleanup strategies and provides new resources to states, local governments, and landowners to help implement them. Over the past two years, the President has secured $3.9 billion to implement the plan.

Clean Water Action Plan Budget
(in millions of dollars)
1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000

1,200 1,229 1,420 1,368 1,420 1,679 1,870 1,998 2,431


Making Children's Health a Priority

Children are particularly vulnerable to environmental health threats. Their bodies are still developing. Pound for pound, they eat, drink, and breathe more than adults. And their play puts them in close contact with the environment.

President Clinton signed an Executive Order in 1997 to ensure that these added risk factors are closely scrutinized. The order directs agencies to coordinate their research priorities on children's health, and to ensure that health and safety standards they adopt take into account special risks to children. The Administration has launched outreach campaigns to educate parents, teachers, and health providers about environmental health risks to children. And, to develop better science, the Administration has awarded grants to nine universities to establish children's environmental health research centers.

Improving Food Safety Standards

To ensure that America's food supply remains among the safest in the world, the Administration has made reducing food-borne illness a national priority. New steps include improved safety standards for meat, poultry, and seafood products, as well as for fruit and vegetable juices. Research, education, and surveillance efforts also have been greatly expanded. In 1996, President Clinton signed the landmark Food Quality Protection Act, setting strict new standards for pesticide residues in food — including the first pesticide standards aimed specifically at protecting children. The Administration is on track to completing reviews for the pesticides posing the greatest potential risk by the end of this year.

Ending Childhood Lead Poisoning

Despite bans on lead-based paint and lead in gasoline, lead remains one of the greatest environmental health threats to children. Nearly one million children under six — one in 20 — have elevated levels of lead in their bodies, posing a risk of serious nervous system disorders such as reduced intelligence, reading and learning disabilities, and behavior problems.

Through grants that help state and local governments identify and remove lead-based paint in older, privately owned, low-income housing, where hazards are most prevalent, the Administration has helped make over 25,000 homes lead-safe. Earlier this year, the Administration launched a new strategy with an ambitious goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning in America in 10 years. The Administration's proposed budget for the coming year includes $164.5 million to begin implementing this new strategy.

Enviornmental Protection Agency Operating Budget
(in millions of dollars)
1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000

2,767 2,719 2,853 3,011 3,109 3,330 3,496 3,532 3,917


Photo: President Clinton Drinking Water "No child should have to live near a toxic waste dump. No child should have to drink water contaminated with chemicals. No child should have to eat foods poisoned with pesticides."
President Bill Clinton
March 11, 1996

Camp Verde, Arizona
Fund is a Pipeline to Safe Drinking Water

When the people of Camp Verde, Arizona, discovered high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in their drinking water, they knew they had a problem: Too much arsenic can lead to cancer, diabetes, and other health problems.

But when Camp Verde set out to upgrade its water system, it encountered a second problem: It discovered that financing wasn't readily available for smaller water systems.

That changed in 1996, with the creation of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to communities to make their water systems safer and more reliable. In 1998, Camp Verde received a $1.3 million loan, enabling the city to install a pipeline to a new, safer water source.

"As a result of this program, we now provide safer drinking water to over 2,000 people," said Stan Bullard, vice president of the Camp Verde Water System. "We would not have gotten this far without the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund."

Richmond, California
A Community Exercises Its ‘Right to Know'

Concerned about high rates of cancer and other disease in their largely minority community, concerned residents in Richmond, California, decided to take a closer look at toxic releases from a nearby oil refinery and other industrial plants.

Photo: Photo of refinery in Richmond, CA
Photo: Refinery in Richmond, CA
A local group called the West County Toxics Coalition joined forces with Communities for a Better Environment, a statewide environmental group. Exercising their "right to know," they researched data in the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), where companies must file annual disclosure statements on their emissions. Their report, Richmond at Risk, identified the 20 largest industrial polluters in the area, with the Chevron oil refinery topping the list.

Although the cause of the high cancer rates remains unresolved, the report helped lead to a dialogue with Chevron, which agreed in 1994 to close down older portions of its plant and install pollution prevention equipment to achieve zero net emissions from a new reformulated fuel project.

"TRI was essential in providing information, for the first time, on Chevron's emissions," said Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition. "We use the TRI information to gauge whether companies are interested in actually reducing emissions. A good company is committed to making these reductions. Without that information, we would have no clue as to whether their emissions are going up or down. The information allowed us to be able to negotiate with them on emissions reductions."

Anaconda, Montana
‘It Was Nothing But A Wasteland'

Photo: Anaconda, Montana

Photo: Golf Course, Anaconda, Montana
Photo of unusable area developed
into a golf course.

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus is best known for his eagles and birdies. But he has another talent — his "green" designs help convert waste dumps into picturesque golf courses. So when residents of Anaconda, Montana, decided to transform a 1,500-acre Superfund site into an award-winning golf course, they went straight to the legend.

A century earlier, the site had contained one of the world's largest copper smelters. But long after the smelter closed and the mining jobs disappeared, the land remained gouged with mines, laced with heavy metals, and littered with slag heaps.

Working with the local community and with ARCO, the property's owner, the Environmental Protection Agency helped develop a plan to clean up the contamination, restore the landscape, and return it to productive use. Apart from the golf course, the project included a new hiking trail and restoration of a nearby trout stream.

The golf course has proven to be a tourist magnet, spurring higher property values and other business investments, and helping Anaconda transform itself into a popular vacation spot.

"It was nothing but a wasteland," Anaconda resident Rose Nyman told the local paper. "For those of us who saw the transformation, it's just been incredible. No one would believe what it was and what it has become."

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
An Immigrant Community Faces the Hazards of Lead

The sudden hospitalization of a two-year-old boy named Cher awakened Hmong families in Milwaukee to the very real dangers of lead poisoning — and to the government assistance that has helped make their homes safer and their community stronger.

Like many other immigrants, many Hmongs who have come to the United States from their native Laos have settled in aging, low-income housing unaware of the threat from peeling lead-based paint. When Cher became sick and a doctor suspected lead poisoning, tests revealed a lead level in his body many times higher than levels known to impair cognitive function, stunt growth, and cause behavioral difficulties. Cher was immediately hospitalized and the Milwaukee Health Department, through a program supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, brought in a skilled contractor to make his home lead-safe.

The Health Department and HUD then worked with the Hmong American Friendship Association to educate the Hmong community about the dangers of lead and to set up a program that dispatches crews to remove lead hazards from homes. The program also trains members of the community to work in the crews as certified lead abatement technicians.

"We learned about the real risk of lead poisoning that our mothers and children face in the older homes that are available in our community," said Lo Neng Kiatoukaysy, the association's executive director. "We have turned dangerous unrecognized lead hazards into opportunities to unify our community, make real change in the lives of children and families, and offer training jobs that teach valuable skills to our under- and unemployed youth while they earn a paycheck."

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