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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Health and Environment Ministerial of the Americas, Ottawa, Canada

03/04/2002
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
Health and Environment Ministerial of the Americas
Ottawa, Canada

March 4, 2002


Thank you, David (Anderson), for that introduction.

I think I speak for everyone in thanking you – and your colleagues – for your hospitality here in Canada for this meeting. Of course, I think it is only fair after the hospitality we showed you on the ice in Salt Lake City in the Gold Medal Ice Hockey games for both women and men. Seriously, I would like to extend my congratulations to your country on two excellent wins.

As always, the Olympics were a shining example of the great global community in which we all live. We should strive to make the Olympic spirit of friendly competition and international comraderie that defines those two weeks, last all year long.

We are doing that today. I am proud to be here because I believe that a gathering such as this sets an example for our colleagues around the world – an example of cooperation that everyone can follow. It underscores the fact that we must use cooperation and partnerships to achieve our common goal of an environment that is safe, clean, and healthy for everyone.

Our mission at the EPA recognizes that environmental challenges almost always transcend political boundaries – making ours a truly global issue.

Though some environmental health threats may vary by country or region, the need for clean air to breathe, pure water to drink, and a protected environment in which to grow and mature is universal. The differences we face are far outweighed by the priorities that we share.

Whether we come from above or below the equator, whether we live in cities of ten thousand or ten million, whether we sit in the mountains or the plains, the arctic’s cold or the jungle’s heat, we are all committed to the future. We are determined to speak with one voice about that future, and what we must do now in order to protect it for our children. We must continue to work together as a hemisphere, and indeed an entire global community.

As was mentioned several times this afternoon, we must also encourage cooperation between those charged with protecting human health and the environment within nations. Success in our country could not be possible without a good working relationship between EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services. We oversee a presidential joint task-force on children’s environmental health and safety, and work together on a number of issues of mutual interest.

I know that similar coordination between health ministers and environment ministers is taking place throughout the Western Hemisphere – your presence here is an indication of your commitment – and I applaud your commitment to seek ways to expand and improve this cooperation.

We have a long history of successful collaboration in the Americas, and I look forward to building upon that history in the coming days and months.

It is clear that the political will exists in our countries to address the health and environmental challenges that we face – and address them together. As I mentioned earlier, I am hopeful that we can focus that will on one of the areas of greatest need and concern – children’s health.

Here in the Western Hemisphere, we are united by more than geography. We are united by both a concern and commitment to preserve and protect our environment for the future. I believe that means protecting the health of our children. We must recognize that while children are 30 percent of our population, they are 100 percent of our future and thus deserve special attention.

The quality of our air, water, and land has a direct effect on the health of our families – especially children. An unhealthy environment leads to unhealthy children. Children have unique vulnerabilities and so by protecting them, we are setting a standard of protection that is appropriate for all humans.

The United States – and this Administration – understands the need for global cooperation on this critical issue. We must identify new ways to work together and outlined a path that we can follow – at the national and regional level – to protect children’s health through improved sanitation, access to clean drinking water, and better air quality.

The Bush Administration is supportive of these goals, and hopeful that our work here and in the coming months can serve as a model for actions to be taken at the World Summit on Sustainable Development later this year.

Children’s Health would make an excellent theme for the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development – because WSSD is all about the future. Our children’s future – and our own – depends upon our ability to provide every family with safe drinking water, clean air to breathe, sufficient information to make decisions about their health, and inspiration to make environmental stewardship a part of their daily life.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development is one opportunity we have on the horizon to engage world leaders from across the globe on the linkages between the environment and public health and the need to work together to address them. By speaking with one voice, the success we can have here can translate into a concerted effort by the global community to address children’s health as the defining question for WSSD.

The need to answer this question is obvious – our children are suffering.

In the Americas alone, one child dies every four minutes from diseases relating to unsafe or unsanitary water. Diarrheal disease is one of the leading causes of death and illness for children under the age of five and; in Latin America and the Caribbean, where only 14 percent of all sewerage is treated, diarrhea accounts for 153,000 deaths and the loss of 5.4 million Disability-Adjusted-Life-Years (DALYs).

These statistics are unacceptable, and in response to the G8 Declaration on Children’s Environmental Health, we have begun to do something about it. We already have a number of great successes that show how global cooperation on the environment has led to real improvements in public health.

For instance, we have been working, in true partnership fashion, with a number of stakeholders in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras to evaluate and begin to solve their water quality challenges.

Technical assistance the United States provided to these countries has enabled them to monitor their drinking water quality from the source to the tap. Interestingly, the answer was not building expensive new plants, but rather increasing the performance of existing plants through training and low-cost modifications.

The result is safer water for our children. Because of this great success, we hope to continue these efforts around the world until every child has access to life’s most basic necessity.

The lack of safe drinking water must continue to be a hemispheric – indeed a global – priority. The United States strongly agrees with the goals of the Millennium Summit – to cut in half the percentage of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015. This must include special attention to the provision on wastewater treatment.

By providing basic water and sanitation services, countries will have the opportunity to lift their citizens out of poverty, strengthen democracy, and develop stronger economies. As was mentioned several times this afternoon, we can achieve this by engaging public-private partnerships to mobilize new sources of revenue and new management practices that will ensure the health of our neediest populations.

Another example is our hemispheric work to reduce children’s exposure to lead. Our countries have made tremendous progress phasing lead out of gasoline. Children’s exposure to lead is a major environmental hazard, but we are taking the right steps to prevent harmful effects such as learning disabilities, hearing and growth problems, and damage to blood, kidneys, and brain systems in serious cases. Since we began eliminating lead from gasoline in the 1970's, the percentage of children in the United States with elevated blood lead levels has dropped from 88.2 percent to 4.4 percent.

In addition to efforts here in the Americas, the United States has worked with China, Indonesia, and Vietnam to help reduce children’s exposure to lead – and I know that we can achieve 100 percent eradication of lead as a health concern for children by continuing to work together.

As you all know, another health concern that we have to work harder to prevent are respiratory illnesses, especially childhood asthma. Every year, approximately 3 million children under the age of five die from respiratory infections and the incidence of asthma among children in the United States alone has doubled over the past 15 years to almost 5 million.

If we could send the message to the world that we will agree to work toward the introduction of low-sulfur fuel, we would be making an enormous contribution not only to the discussions at WSSD – but to the health of our children.

As I mentioned earlier, in the U.S., we estimate that reducing sulfur in diesel fuel from 500 ppm to 15 ppm will result in 8,300 fewer premature deaths, 5,500 fewer cases of chronic bronchitis, and 17,600 fewer cases of acute bronchitis in children each year.

In addition, this change would drastically reduce emissions that contribute to smog and particulate matter that chokes our cities and towns. It is a lofty goal, and one that will require a great deal of hard work, but I know that we can achieve it by building the capacity necessary to make it economically viable for all countries.

From all of these statistics, I think that the message is clear – we must do something to protect our children from the devastating health effects of a dirty environment. Through collaboration between health and environment ministries in each of our countries, we are making some progress.

Our power to influence the global discussion on this important topic, however, comes from our unity as a hemisphere. Together, we can make an exponential impact. The future certainly depends on it.

When we return to our posts and the work at hand – and look ahead to WSSD – I hope we can all see this meeting as an opportunity to contribute more than just our individual share. We must continue to reach out to our neighbors around the world, exchange knowledge and expertise, build partnerships, encourage each other, take advantage of others strengths, and offer to share our own. If we do all of that well, we can surely leave our children and grandchildren a cleaner and healthier planet than we found.

Thank you.