Cycling: a vital link between transport, health, environment and economy

On 19–21 September 2017, Mannheim, Germany, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the country’s invention of the bicycle by hosting the International Cycling Conference (ICC). The event brought together approximately 300 researchers, practitioners and politicians from across the globe to discuss the role of active mobility in the modern world, creating an intersection of academic, political and practical thinking strategies.

Through interactive sessions, presentations, posters, lively discussions and guided study excursions on bicycles, the Conference highlighted the important links between transport planning, health care, environmental quality, economic and business development, and social issues. Under the overarching theme of “Bridging the gap”, the event explored the challenges and opportunities of translating knowledge and experience from research into practice and policy-making – and vice versa.

To read more on the WHO/Europe website go to: WHO/Europe | Germany – Cycling: a vital link between transport, health, environment and economy

Where to swim in Europe

More than 85% of bathing water sites monitored across Europe in 2016 met the most stringent ‘excellent’ quality standards — meaning they were mostly free from pollutants harmful to human health and the environment, according to the latest annual bathing water quality report.

Over 96% of bathing water sites met the minimum quality requirements set out under European Union rules.

The report covers bathing water locations across the EU, Albania and Switzerland. European bathing waters are much cleaner than forty years ago when large quantities of untreated or partially treated municipal and industrial waste water were discharged into water. The assessment compiled analyses of water sampled at more than 21,000 coastal and inland bathing sites and gives a good indication where the best sites with the highest water quality are likely to be found this summer.

For more information including country reports on clean bathing water sites in Europe on the website

Water, sanitation and health

14 people die every day in the pan-European region, due to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.

In response a Protocol on Water and Health has been developed which urges an holistic approach to water, sanitation and health, enabling countries to use the Protocol as a tool to implement Strategic Development Goals SDG) at national levels. Through improving their water, health and environmental situations, countries also support and reinforce the benefits to many other areas of development. This creates positive, interlinked and mutually supportive outcomes that reduce poverty, address inequality and promote sustainability – all of which are overarching themes of the SDGs.

More information about the Protocol on Water and Health on the website

Environmental sustainability in health systems

Health systems have a substantial impact on the environment and are major consumers of energy and resources, according to evidence compiled in the new WHO policy paper “Towards environmentally sustainable health systems in Europe”.

The paper explains that although health systems use up natural resources, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and produce large quantities of waste, including hazardous material, they can also have a positive impact on the environment – particularly in the areas of health promotion and environmental health protection activities.

Find out more about environmentally sustainable health systems on the website

Lead Poisoning in Europe

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. Yet, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that in 2013 lead exposure accounted for 853,000 deaths globally and 16.8 million disability-adjusted life years due to its long-term effects on health.

Lead poisoning can lead to developmental, behavioural and neurological disorders, anaemia, tiredness and muscle weakness, as well as kidney and liver damage. Scientific studies demonstrate that there is no safe threshold for lead in the human body; efforts should therefore focus on minimizing exposure as much as possible.

According to a WHO survey, 34 of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region report having legislation regulating lead paint in place. However, in some countries this regulation is not yet enforced. In addition to lead paint, lead is found in emissions from industrial processes and waste management, in drinking water (due to the use of lead in water pipes), in consumer products such as toys, cosmetics or jewellery, and in lead-acid batteries.

WHO/Europe encourages all European countries to join forces to advocate for reducing the risks to human health from lead through minimizing environmental and occupational exposure, particularly for children and women of childbearing age.

More information about Lead Poisoning is on the website.

Prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases

The WHO has produced an action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases in the European Region, focusing on priority action areas and interventions for the next decade in order to reduce premature mortality, reduce the disease burden, improve the quality of life and make healthy life expectancy more equitable.
The priority interventions, at population level are:
  • promoting healthy consumption via fiscal and marketing policies on tobacco, alcohol and food
  • product reformulation and improvement in terms of salt, fats and sugars
  • salt reduction
  • promoting active living and mobility
  • promoting clean air

Download the action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs on the website

Air pollution: assessing the health risks

An air pollution health risk assessment estimates the health impact to be expected from measures that affect air quality, in different socioeconomic, environmental and policy circumstances.

This publication, from WHO Europe, introduces the concept of air pollution health risk assessment, describing in broad terms how the health risks of outdoor air pollution and its sources are estimated, and giving an overview of the general principles for the proper conduct of an assessment for various scenarios and purposes.

To read the health risk assessment of air pollution on the website

Improving air quality

Air pollution is the cause of death for more than 400,000 people every year. According to the WHO it is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and cancer. Increasingly, poor air quality leads to a significant worsening of the health of Europeans, resulting in costly consequences for the European Union – between €330 billion and €940 billion in 2010 alone.

The European Parliament has passed the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive, which sets out national limits on a range of air pollutants, including methane and ammonia. However, it excluded mercury and farm emissions which, according to the European Public Health Association, means it has missed the opportunity to achieve the air quality standards recommended by the World Health Organisation.

For more information about the Directive from the website.

Pharmaceutical pollution across the world

According to the global consumer watchdog, the improper disposal of pharmaceutical waste by polluting factories in China, and their links with some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, is creating a looming public health disaster. These polluting Chinese factories supply some of the world’s best known pharmaceutical brands including Pfizer and some of the biggest generic drug manufacturers (McKesson, Teva) are also sourcing products from factories violating environmental and safety standards.

The report’s findings are based on customs data, import licenses, databases and company financial and legal documents, reports from regulatory bodies in several countries and first-hand evidence obtained from an undercover investigation in China. They reveal a ‘complex and murky’ web of commercial relationships between Chinese producers, Indian middlemen, and trusted global brands. The need to clean up the global production and supply chain is urgent since the disposal of large quantities of antibiotic effluent in the environment and the proliferation of resistant bacteria in land and waterways surrounding production sites is contributing to an aggravation of the global Anti-Microbial Resistance crisis.

By dumping antibiotic waste into the environment, these factories create huge breeding grounds for superbugs, and the concentrations of antibiotics in polluted waterways can be as high as in the bloodstream of someone on a full strength dose of antibiotics. The report calls on pharmaceutical companies to embrace transparency throughout their supply chains and to immediately stop purchasing active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) from polluting factories. 

To read the full report, click here on

To read the executive summary, click here on http://sumohere

Potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields

The EU’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has published the final Opinion on potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.

This Opinion addresses the potential health effects of mobile phones, WiFi and the magnetic fields originating from power lines and electrical appliances in the home. It states that:

  • Current scientific research does not link exposure to electromagnetic fields below the limits suggested by EU legislation with adverse health problems
  • The epidemiological studies on mobile phone radiofrequency exposure do not show an increased risk of brain tumours, nor do they indicate an increased risk for other cancers of the head and neck region
  • The association of radio frequencies with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease that was suggested by previous studies was not confirmed by new studies that did not find any link
  • Epidemiological studies link exposure to Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields, from long-term living in close proximity to power lines for example, to a higher rate of childhood leukaemia, which is a rare blood cancer. However, this correlation has neither been explained or supported by animal and cellular studies. So far, research findings were not able to find a possible mechanism to explain this association. More research is needed to confirm or exclude a possible causal association.

To read the full Opinion, click here

For a summary fact sheet, click here on