Environmental factors can have a negative impact on human health and opinion polls show that Europeans are increasingly concerned about this issue. In addition, there are worrying trends that reinforce this concern. Cancer rates are rising at around 1% per year, while fertility rates are declining in some countries. Allergies and asthma are also up around 5% per year. Air pollution and exposure to chemicals are commonly cited as possible causes, while potential risks stemming from emerging technologies like mobile phones and nanotechnology need to be carefully assessed. It is also becoming apparent that climate change can be associated with a variety of health effects, from those relating to heat and floods to those linked with changing distribution of infectious diseases.
Research history and policy relevance
A specific key action 'Environment and health' was first introduced under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5). Over the period 1998-2002, this key action initiated more than 90 transnational research projects ( 13.0 MB). Following FP5, FP6 saw an increase in annual funding for environment and health projects to around €50 million a year for the period 2002-06. The areas of research ranged from the contribution of environmental stressors to health end-points such as cancer or allergies/asthma to the examination of the risks of waterborne stressors and nanoparticles. Numerous projects were also funded to improve the methods of integrated risk assessment, health impact assessment and in vitro testing of chemicals.
A large majority of projects funded by the Framework Programmes have either responded directly to policy needs or provided scientific support for evolving Community policies such as the EU Directive on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe ( 488 KB). In recent years, one of the main policy drivers for research has been the European Environment and Health Action Plan ( 40 KB), adopted in 2004 . The plan aims to improve our understanding of the link between environmental factors and health and is partially inspired by the need to link policy with research results.
Environment and health in FP7
Under FP7 (2007–13), the area of environment and health is becoming more integrated into environmental research as one of the main sub-activities of the "Environment (including climate change)" theme within the Cooperation programme. Three priorities have been identified:
1. Health impacts of climate change
2. Health effects of environmental stressors other than climate change
3. Methods and decision-support tools for environmental health risk analysis and policy development.
Other FP7 themes – in particular "Health" and "Food, Agriculture, Fisheries and Biotechnology" – will provide complementary coverage of the environment and health issues. In addition, an ERA-NET for environment and health is to be launched under FP7, allowing for greater coordination among national and regional institutions funding research in this field.