Countries urged to reduce health risks from asbestos, second-hand smoke and toxic chemicals by 2015


Third meeting of the Environment and Health Task Force.

With the approach of the 2015 deadline for achieving 3 of the 5 commitments made at the 2010 Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, 30 countries at the third meeting of the Environment and Health Task Force agreed to boost action to free Europe from asbestos-related diseases and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke and toxic chemicals. The meeting took place in Brussels, Belgium on 10–11 December 2013, hosted by the Belgian Government.

While much progress has been made, environmental factors still account for 1 in 5 deaths in the WHO European Region. Participants in the Task Force meeting – representatives of countries, international organizations and civil society – decided that implementation needs to be scaled up in countries. It should focus on local action, keeping in mind the Parma commitments, which also include the need to provide safe water and sanitation,  and safe environments for walking and cycling to each child by 2020. The participants acknowledged the European environment and health process as a solid platform to support the development of national action plans and inspire cooperation between sectors.

A high-level meeting to be hosted by Israel in late 2014 will measure countries’ progress towards their pledges at the halfway point to the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in 2016. The participants at the December 2013 meeting established an ad-hoc working group to support the chair and co-chair of the Task Force in preparations for this midterm review. They also set up a working group on health and climate change to support the implementation of the European framework for action on climate change and health.

The way forward – support from key players

“Health cannot be achieved without the engagement of other relevant sectors accountable for it: first, the environment. Air pollution is a strong example: evidence is now indisputable on the link between this killer and cancer. We need to cut dramatically the time between evidence and action and we need to do it together,” said Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health and Environment at WHO headquarters. “The environment and health process in Europe is a solid platform to work across sectors and a model globally.”

“The WHO European environment and health process has been a huge a stimulus for Belgium for many years. In 2003, all Belgian ministers of environment and health signed an environment and health cooperation agreement, and in doing so they paved the way for the Belgian National Environment and Health Action Plan,” said Francis Brancart, President of the Belgian National Cell Environment and Health. “Since then, the Federal Government, the regions and communities have conducted numerous projects on the impact of the environment on health.”

“I was impressed by the enormous commitment to the environment and health agenda of both Member States and stakeholder organizations,” said Alexander Nies, chair of the Task Force, and Deputy Director-General, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany. “Task Force members confirmed that achieving the time-bound targets of the Parma Declaration is a priority. Health in climate change will be supported by a newly established subsidiary body.”

“The meeting was very helpful in terms of consolidating the agenda for the environment and health process in the run up to the high level midterm review in late 2014,” added Thor Erik Lindgren, co-chair of the Task Force, and Senior Adviser, Department of Public Health, Ministry of Health and Care Services., Norway. “With the arrangements agreed at this Task Force meeting, including the establishment of an ad-hoc group to assist in the planning of the midterm review, we have laid solid foundations to make it a key milestone to take the environment and health agenda forward.”