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Environment and health matters for Europe

Environment and health matters for Europe

A significant number of health problems can be attributed to environmental factors, which range from chemicals and food, to housing quality and noise. For example, a major 2004 WHO study reported that one third of disease in children and adolescents in the European Region stems from just five environmental risk factors1.
High quality research is needed to underpin policies designed to influence the environmental factors that affect our health. This issue reports on some of the latest research which points the way to robust health and environment policies and helps evaluate their impact.
The impacts of climate change are far-reaching, and scientific information about its possible health effects is emerging. The article 'Link between climate change and child health: call for more research' highlights the sensitivity of children to the environment, while 'Managing infectious disease under climate change' discusses how to protect Europe's health in a changing planet.
Research into the effects of air pollution on health remains critical. Often overlooked are the health impacts of indoor air pollution; these are investigated in 'Levels of several air pollutants are higher indoors than outdoors', 'New compilation of research on indoor industrial air pollutants' and 'Air pollution policy must be based on indoor and outdoor sources'.
We must also take care not to overlook air pollutants other than particulate matter (PM). Problems associated with some of these, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), are discussed in 'Unregulated pollutants may cause health risks in Western Balkans'.
Resistance to antimicrobials, such as antibiotics and disinfectants, is a major cause for concern - both for our health and the environment. This issue is explored in 'Are bacteria becoming more resistant after biocide exposure?' and 'Reducing environmental pollution by antibiotics to curb drug resistance'.
To assess and manage environmental health risks, such as those explored in this issue, human biomonitoring can be hugely valuable. Work on a European human biomonitoring programme is underway, and much can be learned from experiences and expertise in individual countries. Germany has the most extensive experience of human biomonitoring in Europe and some of its latest work is reported in 'Changes in background exposure to pollutants for German children'. Biomonitoring also brings ethical and communication challenges. 'Human biomonitoring: involve participants in communication strategy' highlights some new approaches in this field.
The European Commission recognises the complexity of environment and health issues. In 2003, the European Commission adopted a European Strategy on Environment and Health2, followed by the European Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2010 3 in 2004, which proposes an integrated information system on environment and health as well as a coordinated approach to human biomonitoring in Member States. Further driving the environment and health agenda in Europe is the upcoming WHO/Europe Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health4, which puts children at the centre of concern.

Ludwine Casteleyn, MD
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium


Link between climate change and child health: call for more research
UN researchers highlight the need to develop better ways to measure the impacts of climate change on children's health. They suggest more attention be given to impact analysis of different social groups and ages, as well as nutrition.(more...)
Managing infectious disease under climate change
Health experts have called for a proactive, joined-up approach to public health in Europe under a changing climate. A recent study has examined the evidence for the influence of the climate on infectious disease and proposes a new integrated network for environmental and health data. (more...)
Levels of several air pollutants are higher indoors than outdoors
New European research finds that the levels of several harmful air pollutants are greater indoors than outdoors, and even greater when measured on the person themselves. The levels of benzene are especially concerning and often exceed EU limits. (more...)
New compilation of research on indoor industrial air pollutants
A recent analysis of indoor industrial air pollutants could be useful for implementing REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals). Implementation of REACH should be based on sound analytical methods and targeting of priority chemicals, according to the researchers.(more...)
Air pollution policy must be based on indoor and outdoor sources
New research reveals that indoor air pollution is an important indicator of the impact of emissions from an oil refinery on nearby communities. It suggests policies based on outdoor monitoring alone are not sufficient to safeguard health, especially with regards to breast cancer. (more...)
Unregulated pollutants may cause health risks in Western Balkans
Several pollutants that are not covered by UN regulations could be harmful to humans, according to new research in the Balkans. By sampling air at various urban sites, the research showed that polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAHs) have the potential to be a major health risk. (more...)
Are bacteria becoming more resistant after biocide exposure?
Researchers have raised concerns that an increase in the use of biocides could reduce their effectiveness and, in some cases, may lead to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Standard risk assessment methods are urgently needed for the use of biocides in real-life situations, according to the scientists. (more...)
Reducing environmental pollution by antibiotics to curb drug resistance
Widespread use of antibiotics to prevent and treat infections in people and animals as well as for promoting growth in livestock is causing environmental contamination. A new study highlights the need for extra measures to reduce environmental pollution from antibiotics. Such pollution can increase the risk of diseases caused by bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics. (more...)
Changes in background exposure to pollutants for German children
Children are thought to be at greater risk from exposure to environmental pollutants than adults because their bodies are still developing and their lower body weight means that relative exposure is higher. A new study reports background exposure levels in German children aged 3-14. (more...)
Human biomonitoring: involve participants in communication strategy
Monitoring the effects of chemicals in the human body provides useful data for assessing and managing environmental risks to health, but it also raises ethical questions about how the results of such studies should be reported to participants. New research suggests that changes are needed to the research process to allow study participants to play a greater role in interpreting, disseminating and using the results. (more...)
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