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Key Action 4 : Environment and Health
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Air pollution

Studies show that air pollution is harmful to all the body’s vital organs: the lungs and bronchi, the heart and blood vessels, and the immune system. It aggravates respiratory problems and may cause asthma and other allergic responses.
Case Studies

Impact of released mercury

Reaching the limits in ambient air

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Air pollution comprises dust, smoke and gases in the air we breathe. It arises from natural sources such as volcanoes, agricultural practices etc, but is caused mainly by traffic and industry. Contributors to indoor air pollution include ambient air pollution, dust, tobacco smoking, the inefficient burning of fuels for cooking and heating, household chemicals, furnishings wall and floor coverings etc. The list is long.
Common pollutants include:

  • metals, such as lead or mercury;
  • gases, such as ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, etc; and
  • particulate matter, mineral ash, smoke, and engine exhaust.

The net result is that in cities across the EU, air pollution (particularly suspended particles) may cause many tens of thousands of premature deaths from respiratory diseases annually.

Contribution from Key Action 4

Among the projects selected for Key Action 4 – Environment and Health, 14 are devoted to air pollution. By revealing causal links between pollutants and health effects, and providing tools for measuring exposures and effects, they will favour the development of protective measures and feed into the process of regulating pollutant emissions.

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Case Studies

Impact of released mercury

Mercury is toxic and volatile. Following its release into the air from incinerators, factories, dumps and mining sites, it is subsequently deposited on land and water.

The EMECAP project(1) is focusing on the Mercury-Cell Chlor-Alkali (MCCA) sector, which numbers 63 plants in Europe and accounts for 15% of mercury emissions worldwide.
EMECAP is developing:

  • a convenient microanalyser with good networking features for measuring atmospheric mercury levels;
  • a mathematical model for simulating mercury dispersion;
  • a new software to correlate environmental and epidemiological data; and
  • innovative samplers/dosimeters for measuring personal exposure to gaseous mercury.

Epidemiological and environmental measurements will be performed in and around two pilot MCCA plants. The collected data will provide valuable information on the health impact of mercury exposure in such areas, and will be used to develop the correlation algorithm.

(1) European Mercury Emissions from Chlor-Alkali Plants. QLK4-2000-00489

Prof. Paolo Dario
Scuola Superiore di Studi Universitary e Perfezionamento Sant'Anna (IT)
dario@mail-arts.sssup.it
http://www.emecap.com

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Case Studies

Reaching the limits in ambient air

Air pollution and cardiovascular effects

The HEAPSS project(2) is examining the link between air pollution and acute myocardial infarction (AMI). In five EU cities, partners are recording daily levels of gaseous and particulate pollutants (including ultrafine particles), meteorological data, and incidence rates for first-time AMI in the general population and death/ hospital admissions among AMI survivors. They are also collecting patient data.

The project aims to identify individual characteristics that increase vulnerability to air pollution, and to establish dose-response relationships between pollutants and health effects. This will provide a scientific basis for air pollution prevention strategies and early-warning systems for susceptible subgroups.

(2) Health effects of air pollution on susceptible subpopulations – traditional air pollutants, ultra-fine particles, and myocardial infarction: database and health assessment: QLK4-2000-00708

Dr Francesco Forastiere
Department of Epidemiology
Agency for Public Health (IT)
Epiamb1@asplazio.it

Exhaustive research

Another project(3) is focusing on motor engine exhaust, in particular on the particulate matter (PM) it contains.

In collaboration with an established European epidemiological study, partners are sampling and analysing ambient PM and freshly generated diesel and gasoline engine PM. They are screening the samples for bioactivity in various in vitro systems and on selected target cells. Provocation tests will then be carried out on healthy and more sensitive subjects, such as asthmatic and allergic individuals.

Finally, epidemiologists and statisticians will relate the physico-chemical characteristics of the PM to the results of the various tests and to the epidemiological findings.

(3) Health effects of particles from motor engine exhaust and ambient air pollution – a European collaborative project:
QLK4-1999-04582

Prof. Thomas Sandström
Umeå University Hospital (SE)
Fax: +46 90 141 369

Ultimately, both projects should contribute to the revision of Council Directive 1999/30/EC relating to limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, lead and particulate matter in ambient air.

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Case Studies

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Some health effects of air pollution have been linked to the presence of DNA-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH-DNA adducts) in exposed individuals. The EXPAH project(4) is testing the hypothesis that PAHs carried by airborne particles are the major source of genotoxicity in organic mixtures associated with air pollution.

The project is focusing on populations in three European cities. It aims to measure exposures, collect information on lifestyle factors such as diet, and look for DNA adducts, biomarkers of DNA damage,
susceptibility factors, and DNA modifications due to oxidative stress. Partners are developing an in vitro human cell model in which to study the genotoxicity of complex mixtures adsorbed on to airborne particles. The results will be used to assess the risk associated with air-pollution-linked exposure to PAHs.

(4) Effects of PAHs in environmental pollution on exogenous and endogenous DNA damage. QLK4-2000-00489

Prof. Peter Farmer
Medical Research Council (UK)
Pbf1@le.ac.uk

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