EPA's Collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO)
Environmental factors have a major effect on human health. In fact, a WHO Studyfound that modifiable environmental factors are globally responsible for 23% of deaths and 26% of deaths among children under five.
EPA has a longstanding program of cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the direct link between protecting public health and supporting a clean environment. EPA’s mission, to protect human health and the environment in the United States, naturally aligns with WHO’s goal to build a better, healthier future for all people.
First WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health
EPA participated in the First WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, held October 30-November 1, 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. The event, called for by the 16th World Health Assembly in 2016, sought to further elevate awareness and action among a wide range of stakeholders with a view to reducing the WHO-estimated 7 million premature deaths globally from ambient and household air pollution. Particular attention was aimed at connecting the health and environmental sectors. The event garnered major international interest resulting in attendance of almost 900 participants that identified numerous concrete actions they would take to address air quality.
The EPA-WHO Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), renewed in September 2016, outlines topics for mutual cooperation. Our first MOU with WHO was signed at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit.
As the coordinator of international health for the United Nations, WHO produces public health guidelines and standards, supports health research, and helps countries address public health issues. WHO works with governments and partners through offices in more than 150 countries. WHO work includes:
- Health Systems
- Noncommunicable diseases
- Promoting health through the life-course
- Communicable diseases
- Preparedness, surveillance and response
WHO’s 194 member states appoint delegates to attend the World Health Assembly, the legislative and supreme body of WHO. The agenda for World Health Assembly meetings is set by an executive board, which has 34 members elected for three year terms. WHO also has six regional offices for Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Western Pacific.
EPA @ WHO
EPA and WHO cooperate on a wide range of environmental and public health issues, such as air quality, priority toxics, and water and sanitation. We also work with WHO on shared efforts to assess risk, to understand how environmental factors contribute to disease, and to develop WHO guidelines for environmental standards (e.g. for air and drinking water quality).
EPA’s activities with WHO are advanced under both a Memorandum of Understanding and a Cooperative Agreement with WHO. Specific areas of work include:
Climate Change and Human Health
Climate change negatively impacts human health, through increased heat-related mortality and sickness, worsened air quality, and more rapid spread of vector-, water- and food-borne diseases, particularly among vulnerable populations. EPA is collaborating with the WHO and others to promote the importance of taking health risks associated with the changing climate into account in the development of policy responses and programs.
Indoor and Outdoor Air Quality and Health
EPA works with WHO to support reductions in air pollution generated in developing countries, which has the potential to travel across country boundaries. EPA and WHO work together to collaborate with countries to create country plans to address indoor air pollution, primarily focusing on promoting cleaner methods of cooking, heating and lighting. These action plans include adopting or adapting, and then implementing, standards developed through the International Organization for Standardization. WHO and EPA organize regional and country workshops to help countries develop and implement the actions identified in these science-based plans.
EPA continues to raise awareness about the need for enhanced cooperation between environmental and public health communities to address this complex challenge. In 2018, the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) 3rd High Level Meeting on Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) identified air pollution as a major risk factor contributing to the over 70% of global deaths due to NCDs. This includes deaths from cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and lung cancer. The Declaration called for “(i)ncreased global awareness, action and international cooperation on environmental risk factors, to address the high number of premature deaths from (NCDs) attributed to human exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution.”
EPA also played a leadership role in the adoption of a Health and Environment resolution at the third UN Environment Assembly, to affirm the importance of joint efforts to address health and environment, and requesting the UN Environment Programme work with WHO and other relevant organizations on the environment and health nexus.
EPA provides ongoing technical expertise to help revise WHO’s guidelines for monitoring outdoor air pollution and disseminate information on effective interventions to improve outdoor air quality. This collaboration includes updating WHO’s air quality guidelines, which are used by countries around the world to implement their air quality programs.
EPA also provided expert review of WHO’s International Radon Project, which recommended measures building professionals can use to reduce health risks from radon exposure. This project included the development of training material which has informed national radon reduction programs around the world. EPA and WHO have collaborated to promote the adoption of member state national radon action plans, and disseminate key health messages from the WHO Radon Handbook. WHO continues to maintain an online platform to support technical and communications experts to share effective radon interventions, and develop a database of radon regulations.
Children’s Environmental Heath
EPA and WHO contributed to the development of a global initiative on Children’s Environmental Health Indicators, to increase international cooperation, improve assessment of children’s environment health, and monitor the success or failure of interventions. While the state of children's environmental health has improved dramatically in the United States, this is still a topic of importance to American families. The resulting training package for health care providers on children’s environmental health is now available on the WHO website.
Chemicals and Toxics
EPA currently serves as the Advisory Group Chair of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (Lead Paint Alliance), led by a joint secretariat of WHO and the United Nations Environment Programme. The Lead Paint Alliance is working to promote lead paint laws worldwide to eliminate lead in paint, including household paint and paint used on children’s toys.
EPA helped create WHO’s Chemical Risk Assessment Network, launched in 2012. This network has improved global chemical risk assessment though scientific exchanges, capacity building, and identification of research needs and emerging health risks. EPA and WHO continue to collaborate on best practices to evaluate chemicals and pollutants and to train global experts in these methods.
Water, Sanitation and Health
EPA has long supported WHO’s guidelines on drinking water quality and guidelines for recreational water quality. At present, EPA and WHO are expanding the guidelines to address chemical and microbial exposure in drinking water and recreational waters, two critical elements of ensuring safe water for human consumption and recreation.
EPA and WHO developed guidelines for Sanitation Safety Planning to support the safe reuse of wastewater and greywater in agriculture, improve waste management and better protect water quality. These guidelines will support water suppliers, governments and other stakeholders. The EPA and WHO continue to collaborate on the development of guidelines and other reports such as the Application of Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment for Water Safety Managementreport, the Water Safety in Distribution Systems report and the Protecting Surface Water for Health report, among others.
Environmental Burden of Disease
EPA supported WHO efforts to quantify disease caused by environmental factors. In 2006, WHO produced the first global estimates of the loss of quality years of life as a result of exposures to lead, indoor smoke from solid fuels, outdoor air pollution, water, sanitation and hygiene, and climate change. These estimates were recently updated in a WHO reporting on preventing noncommunicable diseases. EPA and WHO work to compile data and analyze how environmental factors contribute to diseases levels at the country level.
- View: Global estimates of burden of disease caused by the environment and occupational risks (WHO)
- View: Preventing Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) by Reducing Environmental Risk Factors (WHO)