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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

G8 Environmental Ministerial Meeting Working Session on Environment and Health,Trieste, Italy

03/04/2001
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency
at the
G8 Environmental Ministerial Meeting
Working Session on
Environment and Health
Trieste, Italy

March 4, 2001



Although this is the last of our working sessions, that should, by no means, suggest that issues of environment and health are of secondary importance to the members of the G8.

I am pleased to see the commitment of my fellow ministers to issues of environment and health, and especially to protecting children from environmental threats. I share those commitments and support all the goals outlined in the 1997 G8 Declaration on Children.

Yesterday we spoke about the importance of sustainability. I want to begin this morning by saying that protecting children’s health and promoting and achieving sustainability are inextricably linked.

I hope you will allow me to again draw on my experience as governor of New Jersey to illustrate my own commitment to smart growth planning and its benefits to health.

New Jersey has been recognized nationally in the United States for its smart growth planning practices.

The progress we have made in such areas as farmland and open space preservation, in promoting acceptance of the statewide Development and Redevelopment Plan, and in comprehensive transportation planning, are also bringing health benefits to New Jersey’s children.

For example, improved air quality that results from better transportation planning can help reduce respiratory problems, including childhood asthma.

Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism and of hospitalization among children in the U.S. Smart growth can help address this very serious health issue among children in many parts of the world.

The U.S. EPA is also working to remove environmental threats from America’s classrooms.

As you know, one of President Bush’s top priorities is improving education in my country.

The President knows we have to improve learning for all children in America. He also knows that children learn best when their schools are free of environmental health threats.

Consider that lead poisoning in children can reduce IQ, and that asthma causes ten million missed school days for American children each year.

EPA is a proud partner in President Bush’s education initiative, and we will work to ensure that schools are free of environmental threats.

In addition, we will continue to work, both domestically and internationally, with such organizations as the World Health Organization to reduce the risks and exposures of children to cigarette smoke.

Over the past 30 years, one of the children’s health success stories in the United States is the enormous reduction in children’s blood lead levels.

By eliminating the use of lead in gasoline and other sources, such as plumbing parts and soda cans, blood lead levels are significantly lower.

In fact, since 1976, we’ve reduced the percentage of young American children with elevated blood lead levels from 88 percent to just four percent, with most of those children being exposed due to lead paint in older homes.

We are pleased to see many other countries taking similar action, but believe there is still much to be done.

The United States remains committed to the May 1997 G8 environmental ministers’ communique calling for the phase-out of lead in gasoline and the reduction of lead levels in children’s blood.

Other opportunities exist for us to work together to improve our understanding of important environmental health issues.

Japan, the United States, and the European Union are continuing to work together on the frontiers of knowledge concerning the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Because of a number of the known EDCs are persistent in the environment, this is an issue of global concern.

I am proud, as I’m sure you are, of our joint efforts to study this important issue and to share with the world, through the Internet, the information we are developing.

Another important issue, especially for infants and children, is pesticide residues in foods.

We are working to build on the landmark Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which provided greater protection to consumers from pesticide residue in food, by reassessing hundreds of older pesticides to ensure that they meet today’s tougher scientific standards.

Another area where I would hope that we could work together, is to limit exposures to mercury.

My government strongly endorses the recent decision by the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Program to invite the UNEP executive director and others to begin a global assessment of mercury and its compounds.

The United States is contributing $100,000 to this effort. That alone will not cover the costs of this assessment, so we encourage other governments to support this global assessment as well.

In looking at issues like endocrine disrupting chemicals and mercury exposure, the issue of precaution also comes to mind.

Precaution has long been an integral part of U.S. domestic regulatory practice.

Certainly, on a case by case basis, there is reason to use precaution in making certain environmental policy decisions, especially when the scientific data available is not as complete as we might like.

However, I believe it is important to realize that the use of precaution must be specific to the context of each particular situation.

This is not a case where one size fits all. That is why, in the United States, precaution is reflected differently in various statutory authorities, as it also is in various international agreements.

With respect to the recently negotiated Persistent Organics Pollutants Convention, the United States believes this treaty is rigorous yet realistic and is attainable for both developed and developing countries.

Our experience in the United States bears this out.

Of the 12 POPs addressed in the treaty, the United States has already cancelled registrations for all nine pesticides, banned the manufacture of PCBs, and has imposed stringent controls on dioxins and furan releases.

Efficient and affordable alternatives to these POPs exist.

The broad support this agreement has achieved – including industry and environmental and public health groups – indicates the success the negotiators achieved in drafting it.

We also believe that a treaty such as POPs is a big step forward for children’s health.

We are reviewing the text of the treaty and I hope to attend the Diplomatic Conference in Stockholm and to be in a position to sign the treaty.

I am pleased with the work we are doing together to address environmental health concerns and am optimistic about the prospects for further progress among the members of the G8.

Thank you.