Science should focus on ‘new’ environmental health risks, EU report says


Europeans live longer, healthier lives partly due to successful environmental policies on air, water and food, according to a new report. However, several new health risks are emerging from new chemicals, products and changing lifestyle patterns, an EU report says.

The Environment and human health report, by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, said the main causes of premature death and disability in Europe have become non-communicable, ’lifestyle’-related conditions, such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer.

In so far as these problems may be linked to environmental factors, it has become increasingly important to address all these issues together, according to the report.

“This report really reinforces some of the key links between health and the environment. People are now exposed to many different harmful factors, which together are reducing both lifespans and well-being,” said Jacqueline McGlade, the EEA's executive director.

People are usually exposed to multiple environmental factors throughout their lives, and more research is needed to understand the impacts, the report stated, especially for the most vulnerable in society, including children, the poor and the elderly.

Science needs to move away from focusing on individual hazards and look instead at the complex, combined effects environmental and lifestyle factors are having on human health, the report argues.

New risks: Chemicals and nanotechnology

New risks include the fact that global sales of products from the chemicals sector doubled between 2000 and 2009, and there is an increasing range of chemicals on the market with substances affecting human health.

There is also a growing concern about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which affect the hormone system, the report highlighted. These are found in a wide range of common products including pharmaceuticals, pesticides and cosmetics.

Though effects are still not fully understood, scientists have linked the chemicals to declining sperm count, genital malformation, impaired neural development, obesity and cancer.

Nanotechnology applications might also be an emerging risk, as little is known about the effects of nanomaterials in the human body.

"This will require an adequate assessment of potential risks, to guarantee the safe production of nanomaterials and their safe use in consumer products," the report said.

Meanwhile, the report advises city planners to allow sufficient green space in urban areas, saying it has multiple health benefits, both physical and mental. Sweden and Finland have more than 40% green space within their boundaries, while at the other end of the scale all Hungarian and Greek cities have less than 30% green space.

Human health and well?being are closely linked to environmental quality.

This has been recognised for decades amongst policymakers in Europe, and most recently appears as a cornerstone in the Commission's proposal for the 7th Environment Action Programme.

A report, produced jointly by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), outlines a number of environmental issues with a direct influence on people's health and well-being.

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