Countries urged to plummet health risks from asbestos, secondhand smoke and toxic chemicals by 2015

Thirty countries gathered in Brussels on 10 and 11 December for the third meeting of the Environment and Health Task Force (EHTF) of the World Health Organization (WHO). The countries agreed to boost action to free Europe from asbestos-related diseases as well as exposures to secondhand tobacco smoke and toxic chemicals. Hosts of this meeting were the Belgian Federal Government, the Communities and the Regions.

While much progress has been achieved on environment and health,one in five deaths in the European Region is still attributable toenvironmental factors. The meeting participants (country’s representatives, international organizations and the civil society) decided that implementation needs to be scaled up at country level. They also acknowledged the European Environment and Health Process as a solid platform to support the development of national action plans and inspire cooperation between environment and health sectors.

Importance of the WHO on Belgium

Francis Brancart, President of the Belgian National Cell Environment and Health, stresses the importance of the WHO on the Belgian environmental health policy: "The European Environment and Health Process of the WHO is huge a stimulus for Belgium and has been for many years already. In 2003, all Belgian Ministers of environment and Health signed the cooperation agreement environment and health, and doing so they paved the way for the Belgian National Environment and Health Action Plan (NEHAP). Since then, the Federal Government, the Regions and the Communities have conducted numerous projects on the impact of the environment on health. The project we recently completed concerns health professionals such as doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc. It is important that they are also trained in environmental medicine and environmental health during their education so that they can prevent environment related diseases or treat them more effectively".

Environment and Health Process

“The environment does not stand alone, its bottom line is health. Linking the work of these two sectors is crucial to improve people’s health and the Environment and Health Process in Europe has been a unique example of this for twenty five years”, said Srdan Matic, Coordinator Environment and Health, WHO Regional Office for Europe. “This third meeting of country’s representatives gives a further boost to the Process as it is a call from countries to countries to achieve the targets they gave to themselves”.

The near future

A high level meeting, announced to be hosted by Israel in late 2014, will measure the countries’ progress against their pledges towards 2016’s Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health. In preparation of this mid-term review, participants established an EHTF ad-hoc working group (EWG). They also set up HIC, Health in Climate Change, a working group on the implementation of the Framework for action on climate change and health.


Francis Brancart, President of the National Cell Environment and Health


Srdan Matic (third from left), Coordinator Environment and Health, WHO Regional Office for Europe