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EEA report outlines environmental risks for people’s health

The European Environmental Agency’s assessment underlines how EU environmental policies contributed to better health but also warns that work still needs to be done to address pollutants and new environmental health risks, and environmental health inequalities.

According to the joint report by the EEA and EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre, Europeans are living longer and healthier lives than in the past, partly due to successful environmental policies that have reduced the exposure to harmful environmental contaminants in air, water and food.

However, the report also highlights that these contaminants are still a problem, and new risks are emerging such as from new chemicals, products and changing lifestyle patterns. Pollutants, noise and other forms of environmental degradation are shown to be harmful to health. The report aims to provide an overview of the most pertinent environment and health issues, and to provide policy considerations. It showcases how exposure to air pollution, noise, poor quality water, chemicals, radiation, biological agents, and otherwise degraded environments are important components of non-communicable, chronic diseases.

A ‘health gap’ remains in Europe and there is a large difference in the environmental conditions for citizens. For example, people with a low social status often live in more degraded and harmful environments which have a potential negative effect on health. The environmental condition may be further influenced by factors including socio-economic status, life style habits and their state of health.

There are significant differences in access to green spaces in Europe. For example, all cities in Sweden and Finland have more than 40 % of green space within their boundaries, whereas cities in countries such as Hungary and Greece have less than 30 % of green space.

Key findings include an increase in sales of chemicals which include substances affecting our health such as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The report points out the contribution of air pollution to cancer, heart disease and asthma and estimates that air pollution reduces the life expectancy of each EU citizen by an average of 8.5 months. Pharmaceutical residues and endocrine-disrupting substances found in water are another health and environmental problem as well as noise which can seriously harm our health.

Devices emitting electo-magnetic fields (EMF) such as mobile phones are sometimes considered a possible cancer risk and nanotechnology applications could be seen as an emerging risk as little is known about the effects of nanomaterials in the human body.

EEA’s new assessment is a key publication as it shows (once again) how environment and health is not just ‘an aspect ‘of environmental policy, it is at the heart of it.

To access the report click here

Originally posted on 7 June 2013

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