EPA Administrator McCarthy: Environmental Concerns are Public Health Concerns

WEBRemarks by Gina McCarthy
Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

WHO Executive Board Meeting

Geneva, Switzerland

January 29, 2015

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you to this esteemed body for giving me a few moments of your valuable time, because it is an honor to be here.

This Organization was built on the principle that global health threats are blind to borders. This past year has proved that all too well.

As the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. regulating body charged with protecting public health and the environment – let me say on behalf of my organization, and the American people, thank you for all that you do. Your leadership in research, technical support, and the articulation of sound science enables smart policymaking: it helps drive the tools we need to protect our people.  It educates the public about the risks they are facing, and it generates the momentum that we need to take appropriate action.

Environmental concerns are public health concerns.

In fact public health threats from environmental pollutants now rival or exceed the burden of major infectious diseases globally.   The U.S. hopes to continue to push success in protecting public health by partnering with WHO.

First, we can more together to combat exposure to toxic chemicals. Residential lead paint in the U.S.  has a limit of 90 parts per million. But some lead paint sold in the developing world contains 20,000 parts per million or higher.The sad truth is, paint without added lead is readily available and sometimes even cheaper.  So WHO, UNEP, and EPA are working together on the Lead Paint Alliance to ban lead paint around the world.  It’s time that we succeeded in that venture.

Pesticides are also a big problem for farm workers worldwide.  In the U.S., we proposed stronger, cost effective farm worker protection standards to protect workers and bystanders- Especially children.

Now, second, the world population continues to face unacceptable health risks from air pollution. This is an area where WHO is doing some incredible work.   Your indoor and outdoor air quality guidelines save lives. And your science compels action.WHO reported that in 2012, around 7 million people died –  that’s one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure.

That statement, that report, made headlines around the world.  You grabbed the attention of every political leader and every environment and health minister.   That’s the positive influence you have. And we need you to continue to do more of that. Air pollution challenges have compelled U.S. action on many fronts.

Years ago, we phased out lead from gasoline. Recently, we’ve increased fuel efficiency of our motor vehicles to historic levels.   And we are selling more cars and they are cleaner than ever before.

And internationally, we’re partnering to reduce the use of cookstoves – which put  at risk especially women and children.

Finally, we’ve been a key player to what President Obama recently called the greatest challenge to future generation:  the challenge of climate change.

Carbon pollution that fuels climate change comes packaged with smog and soot- increasing risks for asthma, strokes, heart attacks, and cancer.

Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. is taking historic action to tackle climate change and help lead the world in our global climate fight.

I’m honored that the U.S. is leading the charge by regulating carbon pollution from our power plants.

And we are using the Clean Air Act to do it.

Because carbon is an air pollutant, and in the U.S. the Clean Air Act is often referred to as the most successful public health law of our time.

Because it has not only reduced air pollution, it has saved millions of lives.

And it has done that at a time when we have reduced air pollution by seventy percent while our GDP has tripled.

This is not a problem for the economy.

Our environmental protection standards have provided a secure living environment and a secure business environment that has continued to allow our economy to prosper and grow.

In conclusion, We’ve are also working on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition internationally, partnering with other nations around the world, and with UNEP, to cut black carbon, methane, and other potent greenhouse gases.

So EPA – and our sister organizations around the world – we depend on you.

We depend on you for sound science to do our jobs, for environmental health threats are public health threats.

That’s why we do what we do.  We depend on the WHO as a voice of sound science, as a global resource and as a policy compass.

So I would encourage you to continue to work forward to focus attention on air pollution and other environmental threats.

They are public health risks which lend themselves to systemic solutions that can get broad, huge reductions, and the kind of impacts that this body is supposed to call attention to and where you can continue to be hugely successful in generating action.

So let’s continue to recognize that we are all in this together.  So together, we can protect all of our people.

Again, thank you very much for these few moments, and thank you so much for all that you do.

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