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Key Action 4 : Environment and Health
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Chemical reactions

More than 10 million chemicals have been identified, of which around 100 000 are registered in the EU and about 30 000 of these are in use. Some are known to be harmful to humans, wildlife, and/or the environment, but for others, toxicity and ecotoxicity data are not readily available. Chemical reactions  : picture
Case Studies

Modelling pesticide behaviour

Damaging the nervous system

Analysing dioxin risk

Chemicals enter the environment as the result of many human activities:

  • mining sites release heavy metals, acids and organic compounds;
  • combustion plants, waste incinerators, heating systems, and motor engines emit acid gases, ozone precursors, and persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins and furans;
  • mercury and volatile organic solvents evaporate from industrial sites;
  • industries and households discharge chemicals into sewers, rivers, etc.;
  • farmers use fertilisers and spray fields with pesticides; and
  • materials are coated with paints, fire retardants and fungicides.

Once released, chemicals move around: some react with light or with other chemicals, some are degraded, but others persist for many years. Living organisms can take them up, and low-level pollutants are 'bio-magnified' as they move up food chains, sometimes reaching high concentrations in predator species, including humans.

Under Key Action 4 – Environment and Health – 25 projects focus explicitly on chemicals, and many more are concerned with their effects and interactions.

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Case Studies

Modelling pesticide behaviour

Annex VI of Council Directive 91/414/EEC recommends the implementation of uniform principles for assessing the risk of pesticide use. In particular, this requires models for calculating 'predicted environmental concentrations' (PEC) of pesticides in groundwater.

The APECOP project(1) aims to evaluate the validation status of current PEC groundwater models and scenarios, to improve them, and to scale them up from local to pan-European level. A first attempt will also be made at modelling PEC in air.

This work relies on experimental field studies. It will improve the tools for registration authorities, pesticide developers and producers, and managers of Europe's water resources.

(1) Effective approach for assessing the predictive environmental concentrations of pesticides, QLK4-1999-01238

Prof. Marnik Vanclooster
Université Catholique de Louvain (BE)
vanclooster@geru.ucl.ac.be

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Case Studies

Damaging the nervous system

Parkinson's disease and Parkinsonism are similar diseases affecting the central nervous system. The 'Geoparkinson' project(2) is investigating the hypothesis, supported by clinical and epidemiological data, that occupational exposure to chemicals increases the risk of these diseases, in a genotype-dependent manner.

Using a questionnaire developed within the project, partners are collecting exposure data on 800 patients and 1 600 controls in four countries with different exposure levels. Laboratories are determining 18 genetic polymorphisms. By contrasting chemical exposure in actual cases and controls, it will be possible to estimate the risk according to genotype.

Project findings will be reported to health and safety authorities and to the public, and may lead to recommendations for preventive measures.

(2) Parkinsonism and Parkinson's disease: interactions between environmental exposure and genetic factors: QLK4-1999-001133

Prof. Antony SeatonUniversity of Aberdeen (UK)
a.seaton@abdn.ac.uk

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Case Studies

Analysing dioxin risk

Dioxins are ubiquitous, persistent pollutants that bioaccumulate in fats. Major sources include waste incinerators, iron-ore sinter plants, the non-ferrous metal industry, domestic heating facilities, fires, and traffic. An estimated 90% of human exposure is through food, such as fish, meat and dairy products.

Known or suspected health effects include skin lesions, dental defects, abnormal foetal development, impairment of the immune system, endocrine disruption, and cancer. Yet in most cases, causal links and dose-response relationships have yet to be established.

Partners in an ongoing project(3) are conducting a risk assessment based on a comparative analysis of data from diverse approaches including animal studies and organ cultures to investigate toxicity mechanisms, measurements of dioxin levels in human breast milk, surgical samples, and placentas; and population studies of developmental effects and cancer. One important aim is to assess which are the most sensitive effects to be used as the basis for regulations: development effects or cancer.

The project has already demonstrated in animal studies – confirmed in organ culture, and linked with clinical findings a new effect – dioxin-caused failure of tooth development. The ultimate goal is to set a scientifically defendable limit of safe exposure to dioxins.

(3) Comprehensive risk analysis of dioxins: development of methodology to assess susceptibility to developmental disturbances and cancer: QLK4-1999-01446

Prof. Jouko Tuomisto
National Public Health Institute (FIN)
jouko.tuomisto@ktl.fi

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