In 1962, Rachel Carson’s renowned book “Silent Spring” warned us of the dangers of uncontrolled pesticide use threatening our natural resources and the many living things—like people—that rely on those resources to survive. Against all odds, her passion and empathy, catalyzed and empowered the modern environmental movement as we know it today.
That movement remains firmly rooted in the principle that no matter who you are or where you come from, we all deserve clean air, clean water, and healthy land to call home. I'm proud to be part of an Agency whose mission to protect public health and the environment is fueled by that principle.
From mercury poisoning to pesticide exposure—credible scientific information empowers women to protect themselves and their families. Over the last 15 years, EPA has sponsored information campaigns that have helped lower blood mercury levels in women of childbearing age by 34%. Just last year, EPA partnered with the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs to develop trainings to teach women farmworkers the risks of pesticide exposure when pregnant.
Warnings are important, but they’re not enough. The lives of nearly 7 million children, including 3 million girls, are affected by asthma every day. In the U.S., 10 million of the 16 million adults that suffer from asthma are women. In May 2012, thanks to President Obama’s leadership, EPA, HHS and HUD took action to implement an Asthma Disparities Action Plan. Through that plan, EPA is supporting training programs for 16,000 health care providers, preparing them to deliver badly needed, comprehensive asthma care.
Although our focus is protecting public health here at home—we know that pollution is blind to borders. Every year, more than 4 million people die prematurely from indoor smoke exposure, with women and girls disproportionately affected. Much of that smoke comes by cooking food using rudimentary stoves that burn coal, wood, and other solid fuels. That’s why EPA built on its Partnership for Clean Indoor Air to help launch the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. And we’re making progress. Alliance members delivered more than 8 million improved cookstoves last year, bringing a healthier, higher quality of life to more than 40 million people worldwide—mainly women and children.
Back in the ‘60s, thanks in part to Carson’s foresight, President Kennedy took action that ultimately led to banning DDT. If she could see us now, Carson would not only be proud of our march toward a cleaner environment, but also of our march toward a more equitable society. Today, almost 40% of EPA scientists and engineers are women. But we know that there’s a lot more to do on both fronts. With a changing climate, our environmental challenges have evolved. We must too.
Rachel Carson overcame the odds and blazed a trail toward a safer, more equitable future. During Women’s History Month, we not only recognize women like Carson, we also celebrate our intrepid women scientists today who continue to fight for a healthier, more prosperous planet for all.
Gina McCarthy is the Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.