Environment research improves European health and well-being
An individual’s decision to live a healthy life is all good and well as long as the environment in which he lives is equally healthy. If not, the choice is stripped away. Our well-being largely depends on the quality of the environment that we live and work in, according to a recent EU brochure on what European research is doing to improve our environment and health.
|Living a healthy life involves more than keeping fit, EU research reveals.|
A new publication, entitled EU research on environment and health – expanding knowledge to improve our well-being, addresses the myriad ways in which research is adding to our knowledge of the relationship between the environment and health issues. The brochure presents current examples of EU-backed research and initiatives helping to keep policy-makers and stakeholders informed and better protecting European citizens’ health.
“Everyone now accepts that the world around us has an important influence on our health. Many conditions – from asthma and allergies to new infectious and emerging diseases – have been linked in some way to the environment. Studies have shown that environmental pollutants, food contaminants, noise, and issues like climate change, can all affect our well-being,” comments Achilleas Mitsos, Director-General for Research at the European Commission, in the publication’s foreword.
The EU has been at the forefront of research in this area, expanding our knowledge of the complex links between environmental risk factors and their effects on the health of individuals and populations, he continued. In its Environment and Health Action Plan (2004-2010), measures are outlined that integrate Europe's recognised expertise in the environment, health and research sectors.
Ongoing and future EU research in this field, according to the Action Plan, aims to integrate and strengthen health and environment research in Europe. It focuses on four priority health matters (namely, asthma and allergy, neuro-immune disorders, cancer, endocrine effects and exposure to metals) and aims to develop methods to analyse the interaction between the environment and health. It also seeks to ensure that emerging environment and health issues are identified and addressed. At the EU-level, the research is implemented mainly through the Framework Programmes.
Outdoor and indoor risks
More specifically, according to the Commission’s Environment Research website, the aim of EU-funded research in this area is to focus on developing advanced methods for assessing the risk of processes, technologies, measures and policies. It also aims to assess environmental quality, which includes producing reliable indicators of population health, environmental conditions and the evaluation of risk in relation to outdoor and indoor exposure to various pollutants. Relevant pre-normative research on measurements and testing for these purposes is a focus as well.
The brochure provides several examples of the sort of research backed by European money. The EXPOLIS study, for instance, measured how exposed Europeans are to the main urban air pollutants – fine particles, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and a number of volatile organic compounds.
“Study participants in seven European cities carried compact air-monitoring equipment to assess their individual overall exposure. Air sampling was also carried out in each subject's workplace and home combining both aspects of indoor and outdoor air quality,” reports the brochure.
Meanwhile, projects in CREDO (Cluster on Endocrine Disruptors) scheme are investigating claims that environmental pollution affects male fertility, sex changes in fish, and increased incidence of breast and testicular cancer. “The underlying causes are largely unknown, but possibly linked to chemicals in the environment that disrupt normal functioning hormone systems by mimicking or blocking the action of natural hormones,” notes the publication.
Research into the effects of these so-called endocrine disrupters on humans and wildlife is still in its infancy. At the EU level, four projects funded under the Fifth Framework Programme (EDEN, COMPRENDO, EURISKED and FIRE) are looking at causative chemicals, defining the extent of human and wildlife effects, and analysing risks. The projects involve over 60 laboratories and share a total budget of over €20 million.
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