Environment: new threats emerging

It is useful for business to have a good understanding of emerging environmental threats. A new report from the European Environment Agency identifies and characterizes these, in many ways confirming reports from the last couple of years that have been summarized in GallonDaily. The report, Environment and human health, also identifies progress that is being made on previously identified environmental threats.  This progress is not only improving the health of the environment but is also improving human health and helping to increase life expectancy.

Among the emerging threats the authors report:

  • Global sales of products from the chemicals sector doubled between 2000 and 2009, and there is an increasing range of chemicals on the market, including substances affecting human health.
  • There is growing concern about ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals’, which affect the hormone system, found in a wide range of common products including pharmaceuticals, pesticides and cosmetics. Effects are not yet fully understood, but the chemicals may contribute to declining sperm count, genital malformation, impaired neural development, obesity and cancer.
  • The report highlights evidence showing the contribution of air pollution to cancer, heart disease, bronchitis and asthma and estimates that air pollution reduces each EU citizen’s life expectancy by an average of 8.5 months.  Recent studies of air pollution suggest that exposure in early life can significantly affect adult health, and the effect of air pollution on pregnancy may be comparable to that of passive smoking. Up to 95% of city dwellers are still exposed to levels of fine particulate matter (PM) above World Health Organisation guidelines, the report says.
  • In Europe, an increasing health concern in relation to water quality is pharmaceutical residues and endocrine-disrupting substances, which are not always fully removed by water treatment. Water shortages and water quality issues may be further exacerbated by climate change, the report says.
  • Noise can seriously harm health, affecting cognitive development, cardiovascular disease and sleep. Noisy areas are often those with high levels of air pollution, and each factor seems to augment the effect of the other.
  • Devices emitting electro-magnetic fields (EMF) such as mobile phones are sometimes considered a possible cancer risk, but there is no conclusive scientific evidence supporting this link. Available data are reviewed regularly by the Commission’s scientific committees. The next review will be published in the second half of 2013.
  • Nanotechnology applications might 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.
  • Green spaces seem to have multiple physical and mental health benefits. There are significant differences in access to these areas across Europe  – all cities in 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.

In a concluding section the authors state:

As human demand for the world’s natural resources increases and the environmental consequences become more and more manifest, it is imperative that we increase our understanding of the intricate links between environmental conditions and human health and well‑being. Effective governance in this policy domain relies critically on awareness of the complex systemic interactions, feed-backs and trade-offs involved.

The EU press release and a link to the full 85 page report can be found at http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/europe2019s-environment-now-healthier-2013

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