The Random House Dictionary defines “public health,” as “health services to improve community health, esp. sanitation, immunization, and preventive medicine.” Sanitation — particularly water purification and sewage treatment — and immunization are largely responsible for the near doubling of life expectancy in this country since 1900.
In 1977 immunization eliminated smallpox from the planet. Polio will be next, perhaps by December 1999. Rotary International has raised $400 million in private contributions and organized millions of volunteers for vaccination programs, and governments around the world have immunized millions on National Immunization Days.
Compare those public health accomplishments — the doubling of life expectancy and the eradication of smallpox — and its expectations — the eradication of polio (and other diseases to follow) — with what Browner says. She doesn’t speak of lives saved or diseases averted. She can’t.
She can’t trace a path from the billions of dollars spent controlling chemicals in water to reductions in disease. And it’s a good bet that she won’t say that EPA “science” contributed to a deadly epidemic. Ninety‐eight percent of U.S. water systems use chlorine as a disinfectant, but the EPA warns that chlorine reacts with chemicals in water to produce cancer‐causing compounds. Heeding that advice, Peruvian officials reduced chlorine in drinking water. Cancer cases didn’t fall. Cholera skyrocketed. The epidemic that originated in 1991, when under‐chlorinated water failed to kill cholera bacteria, swept across South America, killing almost 12,000 people by 1997.
Last year EPA assistant administrator Dr. Lynn Goldman said air pollution was suspected as a cause of childhood asthma. That’s another example of EPA science. The EPA’s own data show that air pollution has gone down at the same time asthma cases have increased. Shouldn’t something else be the suspected cause?
“One American in four lives within four miles of a toxic waste dump,” said Browner. She couldn’t say that that one person was any more likely to be sick than the three who lived farther away.