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European Nations Agree To Improve Environmental Health

R. Walgate
Published 2010 · Medicine

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Health and environment ministers of the 53 nations of the WHO European region, stretching from Greenland to Vladivostok, and the Arctic to the Caspian Sea, met for their fi fth summit in Parma, Italy, last week, and, for the fi rst time, agreed to set deadlines for improvements in environmental health across this diverse region. But Russia, the world’s biggest producer of asbestos, vetoed a proposed asbestos ban, and at the last minute also tried to wreck an agreement among all members to greatly increase the pace and power of European health and environment planning, saying they could no longer endorse it. Only quick thinking by the new Regional Director for Europe, Hungarian Zsuzsanna Jakab, avoided a crisis, leading to the approval of the Parma Declaration (panel) and the new European Environment and Health planning process, by acclamation. Ministers and most non-govern men tal organisations (NGOs) were pleased with the outcome. The ministers of health and environment in Italy—Ferruccio Fazio and Stefania Prestigiacomo—told The Lancet that since the targets come from a UN body, are agreed by so many countries, and are based on good evidence, they give strength to any argument in cabinet or with the fi nance minister for necessary funds. Others agreed, and Sascha Gabizon, executive director of the Women in Europe for a Common Future, said: “Time-bound targets are a great step forward. The NGOs and even many member states and WHO tried to get deadlines into the Children’s Environment and Health Action Programme for Europe in Budapest in 2004, but all of them were taken out during negotiation. So getting them in this time—even though they don’t set real levels of reductions—is very useful.” Anja Leetz, executive director for Health Care Without Harm Europe, was considerably more sceptical. “Take the harmful substances clause. It’s very unspecifi c. Within the European Union, the new REACH [Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals] legislation

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