Europe’s Environmental Pollution & Children’s Brain Development

During pregnancy and infancy, environmental chemicals have a stronger influence on the human body than at any other time. What does that mean for brain development? What is the link to environmental, social, and economic inequality? 

Toxic environmental chemicals have been in the European public eye for decades. Think of Chernobyl, the clean-up of asbestos, or before that, the industrial revolution: biology textbooks still use the example of peppered moths in England which changed colour from light to dark during the 19th century, as pollution from burning coal in cities darkened their environment.

Researchers have uncovered important links between our health and what we are exposed to in our environments, such as air pollution, heavy metals, pesticides, and hazardous waste. A critical factor is at what age these exposures take place. Pregnancy and the first years of life are the most sensitive for exposure to toxic chemicals.

To read this article in full, go to: http://eurohealthnet-magazine.eu/europes-environmental-pollution-childrens-brain-development/

 New WHO noise guidelines released

The just released WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region provide strong evidence that noise is one of the top environmental hazards to both physical and mental health and well-being in the area. Officially launched to countries and stakeholders in Basel, Switzerland on 10 October 2018, the document identifies levels at which noise has significant health impacts and recommends actions to reduce exposure. For the first time, a comprehensive and rigorous methodological framework was applied to develop the recommendations.

Read more about the  noise guidelines

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 europa.eu 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 euro.who.int 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 euro.who.int 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 euro.who.int 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 euro.who.int 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 euro.who.int 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 go to the epha.org website.