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
- industries and households discharge chemicals into sewers,
- farmers use fertilisers and spray fields with pesticides;
- 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.
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
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.
Effective approach for assessing the predictive
environmental concentrations of pesticides, QLK4-1999-01238
Prof. Marnik Vanclooster
Université Catholique de Louvain (BE)
Damaging the nervous
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
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.
Parkinsonism and Parkinson's disease: interactions
between environmental exposure and genetic factors:
Prof. Antony SeatonUniversity
of Aberdeen (UK)
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
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
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.
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)