Governor: new ideas and real change needed for Delaware

From Dr. James Prescott

In his “State of the State” address, Gov. Jack Markell, like President Obama and many other governors, is faced with a financial and economic crisis that has not been experienced since the Great Depression: “Our state government also faces a challenge: the largest budget shortfall in our state’s history, almost $780 million and growing. Together, we must balance our budget; we must live within our means. We must keep our government’s core commitments, such as protecting the health and safety of our families, fostering the growth of our economy and protecting the quality of our air and water. We must give every child an opportunity to succeed and assist our senior citizens and those with disabilities.

“I am also directing the Office of Management and Budget to work with DNREC to develop a statewide energy efficiency policy.  Let’s be clear. Talking about the green economy is easy. Capitalizing on the opportunities it represents is not. By taking decisive action in the coming years, we will look back at this as the time when we laid the foundation for decades of economic growth and a clean  environment.”

Unfortunately, “clean environment,” “protecting the health and safety of our families” and “protecting the quality of our air and water” are not meaningfully addressed and how we are to achieve these objectives is not specified. The terms “public health,” “toxic environments,” “corporate polluters” and their regulation are nowhere mentioned in his address, despite numerous attempts to place these issues before the various Markell transition committees.

Toxic environments are the greatest threat to public health yet the burden of these health costs both short and long term is nowhere mentioned. Gov. Markell did not mention that Delaware has one of the highest infant mortality rates among the 50 states where only five other States have worse infant mortality rates than Delaware.

John Austin, Citizens for Clean Power, has documented clusters of high infant mortality surrounding the Indian River and Edge Moor coal-fired power plants and this information has been conveyed to the Markell administration without effect.  Infant mortality is a better indicator of the effects of toxic environments than cancer rates, as it takes many years for cancer to develop with its many confounding variables which are not present in infant mortality -infant deaths within the first year of life.

As a member of the DHHS Markell Transition Committee and as a private citizen-scientist, I have attempted, without success, to obtain information as to how many infants who died during the first year of life were being actively breastfed at the time of their death.

Dr. Jaime Rivera, former director, Division of Pubic Health, did not have this information and refused to obtain it in my request to him of March 19, 2006.

A similar request is before the Markell administration. Breastfeeding is a known inhibitor of infant mortality and an effective promoter of infant and maternal health.

The cost of toxic environments upon the health of infants and children, which are lifelong in duration, are substantial.  Nearly one in three of our country’s approximately 73 million children suffer from chronic, often debilitating, sometimes deadly illnesses.

The “new pediatric morbidity” includes asthma, autism, cancer, severe allergies, birth defects, mental retardation, cleft palate and disordered endocrine systems. Cancer among children alone, which used to be a medical rarity has gone up 67 percent between 1950 and 2001.

As certain as clean wind, solar and cell fuel power can eliminate the toxic effects of coalfired and automotive power plants, the public health and individual health can also be secured, which deserves our highest priority. A new order is called for in the Markell administration.

James W. Prescott, Ph.D., is a resident of Lewes, Delaware

Originally published in the Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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