Thursday, March 11, 2010

Environmental Ministers Meet in Parma to Declare Their Intent to Protect Children's Health

Representatives of the 53 World Health Organization (WHO) Member States are meeting in Parma, Italy, this week to review the impact of national and cross-border environmental policies on the health status of the population of the WHO European Region. This is the fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in a process that started back in 1989.

Over 800 participants from countries across the European Region, including ministers of health and of the environment, representatives of the European Commission, intergovernmental and nongovernmental stakeholders, scientists and youth delegates, are taking part in the three-day event that ends today.

One expectation is that they will adopt "a declaration reinforcing their commitment to reducing major environmental risk factors (including unsafe water and sanitation, contaminated air and dangerous chemicals) and emerging global threats (such as climate change)." The declaration will commit governments to achieve clear goals in the next 10 years.

A priority goal for the meeting will be “the prevention of diseases arising from chemical, biological and physical environments.” To achieve this participants have identified a number of potential actions. These include:

* Using approaches and provisions set out in relevant international agreements, such as the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm UN Conventions, as well as protocols on heavy metals and on persistent organic pollutants such as Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

* Contributing to the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and to the development of the global legal instrument on mercury.

* Aiming to protect children by identifying risks posed by exposure to harmful substances and preparations – focusing on pregnant and breast-feeding women and places where children live, learn and play – and eliminating the risks as far as possible.

* Acting on the identified risks of exposure to carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxicants, including endocrine disruptors, and urging other stakeholders to do the same. A ban on asbestos in construction materials and other products by 2015 is being considered.

* Calling for more research into the potentially adverse effects of persistent, endocrine-disrupting and bio-accumulating chemicals and their combinations, and nanoproducts, as well as for the identification of safer alternatives. Developing and using improved health risk and benefit assessment methods.

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