UN Special Rapporteurs Appeal to US to Prioritize Right to Safe Drinking Water
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A group of UN Special Rapporteurs has appealed to the US Government to take wide-ranging actions to address the risk of poisoning from lead-contaminated drinking water, citing existing UN human rights standards.

The group of UN experts on hazardous wastes, health, water and sanitation, indigenous peoples, minorities and racism described the issue of contaminated water as one of human rights, and urged the US to protect the rights of those most at risk from pollution and toxic chemicals.

OHCHR3 March 2016: A group of UN Special Rapporteurs has appealed to the US Government to take wide-ranging actions to address the risk of poisoning from lead-contaminated drinking water, citing existing UN human rights standards. The group of UN experts on hazardous substances, health, water and sanitation, indigenous peoples, minorities and racism described the issue of contaminated water as one of human rights, and urged the US to protect the rights of those most at risk from pollution and toxic chemicals.

US President Barack Obama has declared a Federal state of emergency in the city of Flint, Michigan, where the population is receiving Federal distribution of bottled water and filters after high levels of lead were discovered in the city’s water supply.

On 18 February, US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced US$500,000 in emergency funding for two area health centers to respond to the crisis, including blood tests to monitor lead levels, particularly in children and pregnant women, as well as case management, education and outreach services in the affected community.

The UN joint appeal was made by the Working Group of experts on people of African descent, and six Special Rapporteurs with respective responsibility for the areas of: human rights in relation to the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation; the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the rights of indigenous peoples; minority issues; and contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The Group urged the US Government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as other agreements. It cited research showing that minorities across the US comprise nearly half the population living near potential sources of toxic emissions, and that around 1.6 million children under the age of five live in areas where they are exposed to toxic chemicals.

In a press release, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNOHCHR) highlights that the Special Rapporteurs had also urged the US Government to: show leadership in reducing the risks related to toxic chemicals at home and abroad, as well as in addressing the issues raised by toxic chemicals and pollution as a human rights issue; strengthen protections for the most marginalized and those in vulnerable situations from hazardous substances, by addressing the underlying determinants of health, including access to safe food, to clean water, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information; take legislative and regulatory actions to require the use of safer chemicals and technologies whenever possible; and enhance access to and quality of health care facilities, services, and goods in affected areas. [UN Press Release] [UNOHCHR Press Release] [US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Press Release]

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