Ambassador’s Remarks for the Air Monitor Launch Event,
Ministers and Directors, fellow Ambassadors, distinguished guests and friends, good morning and thank you for coming today to help us celebrate the arrival and launch of our air monitoring equipment. We’re especially pleased to have with us today Tima Hanley, a Lead Physical Scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.
I don’t have to tell those gathered here today that air pollution is a problem in BiH, you have all been involved in trying to help address the issue in one way or another.
I would like to start today with warm thanks for our important partners on this effort. Swiss Ambassador Andrea Rauber-Saxer was instrumental in starting the conversation among the diplomatic community about air quality. And the Swedish Embassy, led by Ambassador Anders Hagelberg, with help from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, will undertake a project with the BiH government to improve air quality assessment and management systems. A big thank you to both of them for their leadership on this issue.
The United Nations has been focusing on air pollution through its UN Air group and has hosted several conferences on the topic in conjunction with the World Health Organization. The World Bank is also getting involved.
BiH NGOs, many of whom are here today, have been instrumental in raising awareness of the issue, and the Federation Ministry of Environment and Tourism has hosted several roundtables with them to hear their concerns.
The Public Health Institutes and Hydro-meteorological Institutes have been working on developing an air quality index to share health messages with the public. And last but far from least, we need to thank our Environmental Protection Agency Embassy Science Fellow, Beth Hassett-Sipple, who joined us in Sarajevo for several months and was instrumental in procuring the equipment we are launching today.
Air Pollution Issue in BiH:
Air pollution is a huge problem. According to the World Health Organization BiH has the highest levels of air pollution in Europe. Our Econ Team has been working closely with many of you on this issue and we will continue to coordinate and collaborate to help solve this complex problem together.
Emissions from diesel trucks and older vehicles, wintertime residential solid fuel burning, and the geography of this beautiful city combine to produce a toxic mix of airborne particles during the winter months.
Air pollution also negatively affects BiH’s economic growth and development. The World Health Organization estimates BiH’s GDP is about 20 percent lower due to air pollution-related health problems and early death. At the same time, air pollution and smog reduce growth in concrete ways – grounding flights in and out of Sarajevo; slowing goods transport; and deterring tourists from the ski slopes.
This toxic air not only hurts the economy, it is making people sick. Last year the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health determined that pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. The World Health Organization estimates that BiH has more deaths attributable to air pollution than any other country in Europe.
One of the biggest challenges for the improvement of air quality in BiH is skepticism among the public of the negative health effects, and distrust of the data currently available. It is this distrust and skepticism that we hope to alleviate with the air quality data we will be reporting from our new monitoring equipment.
EPA and Monitoring:
The product of a unique partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency, the first of its kind at an embassy overseas, our monitoring equipment will provide the first measurements of PM 2.5 in Sarajevo.
To do this, we are using tried and tested regulatory grade equipment found at U.S. embassies around the world. Sarajevo was chosen by the Environmental Protection Agency to be the first overseas location to also test newer air monitoring technology.
I will let our visiting EPA expert talk about the specifics of the technology but I will say that this equipment represents the gold standard when it comes to air quality monitoring. Having reliable and trusted air quality data available to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year can be a powerful tool for change. Let me give you an example.
In 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing installed a PM 2.5 monitor that tweeted out hourly concentrations and health advisories. Before this monitor was installed, everyone knew the air was bad, they could see it, smell it, and taste it, but they didn’t know how bad it was because there was no reliable public data.
As the U.S. Ambassador to China said at the time, “I’ve never seen an initiative of the U.S. government have such an immediate, dramatic impact in a country.” While the Chinese government initially opposed the monitor, they changed course and by 2015 the Chinese government had set up 500 PM 2.5 stations in over 70 cities and began publicly posting hourly data.
This success inspired the U.S. Department of State and the EPA to collaborate to ensure U.S. and local citizens overseas have the best data to make informed health decisions and enhance the availability of outdoor air quality data and expertise around the world.
Through this partnership the State Department now operates air quality monitors at embassies and consulates in over 25 cities in 16 countries and is planning to increase that number to 45 by the end of the year.
The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo is proud to become part of this network as just the 2nd country in Europe with regulatory grade equipment.
We recognize that knowing how polluted the air is represents only half the battle. It will take strong action to keep pollutants out of the air. This means cleaner heating sources, lowering vehicle emissions, improving energy efficiency, and better enforcement of environmental regulations.
Sometimes solving the problem of air pollution can seem overwhelming but the good news is it can be done and many cities around the world have successfully tackled the problem.
In the United States we struggled with polluted air in our cities, but thanks in large part to the Clean Air Act, the United States is now a global leader in air quality policy, science, and technology.
A critical component of the United States’ success in reducing pollution has been the EPA’s consistent, transparent, and reliable air quality monitoring requirements and guidance. We want to create the same success here, and help BiH improve its air quality, working with our international colleagues to build partnerships with the BiH government at all levels, with universities, and with health institutions.
One of the key steps towards building those partnerships is sharing our air quality data. So let’s get to it!
I’m pleased to launch our air monitoring equipment’s twitter account. The Twitter account will tweet out hourly air quality information that includes health messages.
We will also have an entire portion of our public webpage dedicated to the air monitoring equipment and data. The web page will not only feature the air quality data but will also have the Air Quality Index posted in English and the local language so residents in Sarajevo can see the health messages that accompany the particular value being reported.
We are also planning to display the information on our Facebook page in the near future.
With that, I would like to invite our Tim Hanley, the Lead Physical Scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards to talk further about the technology and the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in air quality management in the U.S.
Thank you again for coming today and let’s keep working together to improve air quality in Sarajevo and all over BiH.