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European Countries to Agree New Targets to Fight Environmental Threats to Health

Thursday, March 11, 2010 General News J E 4
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COPENHAGEN and PARMA, Italy, March 10, 2010

- New WHO Reports Show Progress in Reducing Environmental Hazards toHealth but Growing Inequalities in Exposure

Representatives of 53 Member States from the WHO European Region willgather in Parma, Italy, on 10-12 March 2010 to review the impact of nationaland cross-border environmental policies on the health status of theirpopulations.

The event will bring together over 800 participants from countries acrossthe European Region, including ministers of health and of the environment,representatives of the European Commission, intergovernmental andnongovernmental stakeholders, scientists and youth delegates.

Governments are expected to adopt a declaration reinforcing theircommitment to reducing major environmental risk factors (including unsafewater and sanitation, contaminated air and dangerous chemicals) and emergingglobal threats (such as climate change). The declaration, to be signed on 12March 2010, will commit governments to achieve clear goals in the next 10years.

"Working together and across sectors on tackling environmental hazardshas delivered tangible results on the wider European continent during thelast twenty years," says Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, the new WHO Regional Directorfor Europe. "However, climate change, the global financial crisis and growinginequalities are putting a huge burden on national governments, making itmore important than ever to agree a new way forward."

Two new WHO reports highlight progress and gaps in environmental health

For the Conference, the WHO Regional Office for Europe has released twonew studies.

The first, Health and environment in Europe: progress assessment, revealsthat mortality rates from diarrhoeal diseases among young children have beencut to 20% of previous levels in recent years, largely through improvedaccess to clean water and sanitation, and that traffic-related deaths havefallen by 40% since the early 1990s. After a switch to unleaded petrol acrossmost of the Region, and a subsequent 90% cut in lead emissions, lead levelsin children's blood also dropped.

The second, WHO's largest compilation of evidence on inequalities inenvironmental risk across Europe, published in the European Journal of PublicHealth, points to significant variations within countries, and even cities,in the social distribution of environmental exposure and related deaths anddisease. Vulnerable segments of society can be significantly more exposed toavoidable environmental hazards, in some cases over twice as much as theirwealthier peers, in all countries in the European Region.

Way forward: more powerful legislation needed

Across the European Region, many successful initiatives have beenlaunched in the last decade to reduce environmental risks. The EU hasintroduced new regulations on air quality and the safe use of chemicals(REACH), providing direction that is being followed by many other countriesacross the wider European continent. In countries outside the EU, governmentshave created or updated more than 50% of their legislation on environment andhealth during the last five years.

Nevertheless, government policies on different environmental issues andhealth considerations vary significantly in scope and ambition. Whilegovernments have designed a broad range of intersectoral actions to tackleso-called traditional hazards - such as those related to drinking- andbathing water, outdoor air and food safety - public policies on indoor airquality, injuries and physical activity have not been sufficiently developed.

Notes to editors

1. The conference entitled "Protecting children's health in a changingenvironment" is the latest milestone in an intergovernmental process thatstarted in 1989. The event has been organized by the WHO Regional Office forEurope (Copenhagen, Denmark) and hosted by Italy's Ministry of Health andMinistry for the Environment, Land and Sea. The first four conferences werehosted by the governments of Germany (in 1989), Finland (in 1994), the UnitedKingdom (in 1999) and Hungary (2004).

2. For further information, please visit the conference web site(http://www.euro.who.int/parma2010 ).

SOURCE WHO Regional Office for Europe
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