Five Budget Cuts That Could Be Harmful to Your Health
Mar 4, 2011 – 11:49 PM
Senior Public Health Correspondent
Hard-fought-for laws and regulations to save lives and the environment will be gutted or eliminated in budget cuts passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives or ordered by President Barack Obama’s team, experts say.
Public health and environmental experts say it’s indisputable that lives will be lost if these cuts are made:
1) The Consumer Product Safety Commission. The commission is scheduled next week to roll out its long-awaited public database on the safety of consumer products. For the first time, it will allow shoppers to quickly determine whether products they own or plan to buy are associated with safety hazards or recalls.
But the cuts strip funding for this database and would gut the commission’s provision that will require manufacturers to have their products safety tested by an outside firm.
A CPSC spokesman told AOL News that commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum says the new database is vital to consumer safety and, barring a government shutdown, it will be launched on March 11. However, money will have to be found to keep the database current.
2) Poison Control Centers. The House budget slashed 93 percent of the money used to operate 57 of the country’s poison control centers even though accidental poisoning remains one of the top causes of unintentional death in this country.
The role of these centers goes well beyond offering guidance to parents frantic over what to do when their children eat something potentially dangerous, or victims of snake and spider bites and food poisoning. The centers offer the nation’s only real-time data-collection program and in the past offered vital data on the 2010 H1N1 flu pandemic and the health impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. And recently the centers were the first to raise the alarm about the toxic effects of synthetic marijuana and dangerous products marketed as bath salts.
“Poison centers detect public health threats as they emerge,” said Dr. Alvin Bronstein, medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center. “America will lack a key tool in detecting biological, chemical and other developing threats to public health.”
3) The Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA could have a third of its funds eliminated by the House. Among other things, the proposed cuts could prevent:
•Protecting the public from ravages of mountaintop mining.
•Allowing the public to review offshore drilling permits.
•Prohibiting oil companies from getting exemptions to the Clean Air Act when drilling in the Arctic.
•Protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
“This proposal nearly abolishes EPA. It would jeopardize the safety and quality of our air, water and public lands for generations to come,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, told AOL News.
“If this bill becomes law, and we see a spike in the number of children diagnosed with asthma, brain cancer and other serious health problems, the folks who pushed this plan through should be partially to blame,” Cook added.
Edwin Chen, federal communications director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told AOL News that the cuts are “nothing less than a brazen and unprecedented assault on public health. This attack on clean air, fresh water, open space and wildlife won’t take a nibble out of our deficit, but it will take the teeth out of needed protections.
“Polluters would be allowed to spew mercury into the air we breathe, arsenic into the water we drink, and municipal and agricultural waste into the watersheds that nourish our land.”
4) The Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA would receive an 18 percent cut in its spending budget from the House bill, which would result in approximately 8,000 fewer workplace-hazard inspections.
“It is irrefutable that these drastic budget cuts will result in the deaths of workers in construction sites, refineries, factory floors and on fishing boats deep at sea,” Celeste Monforton, a national lecturer and worker safety investigator at George Washington University’s School of Public Health, told AOL News this week.
“Increasing worker safety happens at a glacial pace, and these rash actions will instantly gut much-needed safeguards to keep workers alive,” said Monforton, a former top official with the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
5) The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Neither agency was spared from debilitating cuts, experts say, threatening the safety of he nation’s food supply and preventing the agencies from even doing specifically what Congress and the Obama White House had demanded.
“We are cutting programs not because we want to, but because we have to,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who then added, “American families have been forced to tighten their belts, and government must do the same.”
Food safety advocates say the cuts will endanger the food supply.
Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, told AOL News that the cuts make no sense and points to an expected 500 million-pound increase in the amount of beef and poultry slaughtered this year.
“The president cuts the resources for meat inspection, even while admitting that USDA inspectors will have an increased amount of meat and poultry to inspect next year. It also fails to give the FDA enough resources to put the newly passed food safety reform bill into effect on schedule,” she said.
Sponsored LinksUSDA rules say that meat cannot be released for market without the presence of a USDA inspector.
Without the funding, the agency has no plans to supplement the number of inspectors in these processing plants to meet to higher volume of meat.
This means that the speed of slaughter lines will increase, as will pressure on already overworked inspectors. The obvious result is the likelihood of bad meat and poultry showing up in groceries and butcher shops, said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch’s executive director.