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Children's Health Protection

Transcript of Podcast: Interview with Michelle DePass, Assistant Administrator at the Office of International and Tribal Affairs

Listen to the podcast (MP3, 7.25MB).

E: Environmental issues are global issues. People and the pollution they create, cross boarders, causing environmental issues and concerns around the world. EPA’s Office of International Affairs1 works with over 60 countries to help promote environmental policy. I am here today to talk with Michelle DePass, the Assistant Administrator in the Office of International Affairs to learn more about what here office is doing to help promote environmental health and governance abroad.

E: Why is it important to communicate environmental policy with other countries?

M: Well, all children are more sensitive to environmental hazards and contaminants, so we’re working with countries so that we can help with the capacity building and technical assistance to build strong programs that have worked here in the United States to lower children’s exposure to harmful and hazardous contaminants, and then we can work with the least developed countries to face these extraordinary environmental health risks.

E: What are some of the projects that the Office of International Affairs is working on to address children’s health?

M: The first is, we have air quality initiatives. We work on cook stoves internationally, and that’s working with populations, usually women, in other countries that are using materials to cook with that will cause danger to their health. So we’re working with them and other partners to be able to bring new technology and ways to cook in their households and communities that will protect their respiratory health. We’re also working, when it comes to outdoors, on areas of emissions control, mercury emissions, and we have a really exciting project called Breathe Easy Jakarta in the city of Jakarta, in Indonesia. We’re partnering with the government to be able to work on cleaning up their air quality. We’re doing air quality monitoring, capacity building, and other kind of inventory and promotion of other kinds of fuels, such as low sulfur fuels to be able to bring benefits to the long term effects of the health of children. Another proposal that we have is to replicate the use of and support the establishment of Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units in Mexico and Canada. These pediatric units serve as a source of medical information and advice on environmental conditions that influence children’s health. Under this activity we expect by 2015 two or more new units will be established in Mexico, Canada, and other undeserved communities in the U.S.

E: How does the Office of International Affairs promote children’s health?

M: We work on developing the best practices and figuring out how we can have tangible environmental health outcomes. We work really closely with the country of Mexico in Boarder 2012. Boarder 2012 is a project that we’ve been doing for many, many years. It came out of the La Paz agreement. We are able to respond to requests of schools for air quality improvement as boarder schools have developed air and health policies. We work on modifying outdoor activities when proper air quality conditions don’t exist. We partner with the country of Mexico, along the boarder, to implement parent and general public education about the protection against illnesses related to air contamination. We also have a very large campaign along the boarder in several of the states that re-enforces an anti-idling campaign for parents when using their vehicles. We also are, obviously, trying to foster better management of pesticides along the boarder. The agricultural communities are very important in terms of the economics of the boarder, but we, of course, have identified that there is increased exposure to pesticides along the boarder and it is important for us to foster good management there.

E: What is the Office of International Affairs doing to reduce the environmental impacts of rapidly increasing international trade?

M: Our office has the responsibility to be able to uphold environmental protections through NAFTA. The Office of International Affairs sits on the CEC, which is the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. It was a body that was set up through NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, to be able to protect the environmental health of populations on the boarder. So through EPA’s work, our office’s work with CEC, we’ve made important progress that recognizes, prevents, and reduces children’s exposure to toxic chemical in North America, particularly in Mexico. And this work continues to prevent releases from industrial facilities throughout North America, thereby preventing exposures before they happen.

E: What priorities and initiatives are currently being put into action in Sub-Saharan Africa?

M: One of the priorities of International Affairs is to be able to translate the Administrator’s priorities in working with vulnerable populations, also internationally. So, that does, of course, give us an opportunity to place a focus on least developed countries and Sub-Saharan Africa is really an important region where the Office of International Affairs is just beginning an Africa initiative with a focus on healthy communities. We’re hoping to include water and sanitation, electronic waste issues and environmental governance. Because Sub-Saharans population is the youngest in the world, you have 44% of the population under 15, these activities will directly affect the lives of children, and they are definitely more exposed to environmental pollution and more susceptible to the impacts.

E: What countries are you specifically working with in Africa?

M: Well, I’ll give you an example, the Administrator will be traveling to Ghana and Kenya the beginning of May. So that’s an example of two of the countries that we will be working with. We will be bringing the Administrator there to spend several days with her counter-parts to be able to discuss initiatives that will be the most appropriate and successful in that region.

E: How is the Administrator engaging youth in Ghana and Kenya?

M: As always, the Administrator is looking for ways of working with youth to work on issues that involve them. And so we’re hoping to engage universities as well. We’re hoping that she’ll be able to give a speech at one of the universities.

E: Thank you. For more information on topics from today’s podcast, visit www.epa.gov/oia.

EPA Office of International Affairs is now called the Office of Tribal and International Affairs.

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