Research a key component in new environment and health action plan

June 11, 2004

Brussels, 10 Jun 2004

The Commission adopted an action plan on 9 June, aimed at reducing the negative impacts of environmental pollution on human health, and placed research at the heart of efforts to better understand the environment-health link.

According to the Commission, recent studies suggest that each year, between six and nine thousand French city dwellers die prematurely due to air pollution, and that around one sixth of the total burden of death and disease among children can be attributed to environmental factors.

'Both national and EU level research has significantly improved our knowledge about some of the links between environmental stressors and health and allowed us to take action, for example by phasing out lead in petrol. However, the health consequences of several environmental hazards are the result of complex interactions that are far less well understood,' states the action plan.

It continues: 'Research is crucially important in establishing the knowledge base and providing concrete measures by which European environment and health research results will be fed into policy making.'

The European environment and health action plan covers the period 2004 to 2010, and has been developed in close cooperation with experts from all 25 Member States. It is designed to provide the EU with the scientific information it needs to reduce the health impacts of certain environmental factors, and encourage closer cooperation among actors in the environment, health and research fields.

Specifically, four key actions are outlined in the research component of the action plan: integrating and strengthening European environment and health research; targeting research on diseases, disorders and exposures; developing methodological systems to analyse interactions between environment and health; and ensuring that potential hazards on environment and health are identified and addressed.

Initially, research efforts will focus on gaining a better understanding of the links between environmental factors and respiratory diseases, neuro-developmental disorders, cancer and endocrine disrupting effects. Member States are given responsibility for carrying out research and ensuring that the results are fed into EU level discussions, while the Commission will establish targeted research actions within the framework of the action plan, and will also use the research framework programmes to reinforce this effort.

'Only when sufficiently clear evidence is available, also in line with the precautionary principle, can appropriate policy options be developed in order to review and if necessary revise policy responses and develop new ones,' the action plan argues.

Alongside the research component, the action plan contains two further pillars. The first seeks to 'improve the information chain' by developing environmental health indicators, establishing integrated monitoring of the environment, developing a coherent approach to bio-monitoring in Europe, and enhancing coordination and joint activities. The second targets improved policies and communication through awareness raising, risk communication, training and education.

Welcoming the action plan, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: 'To prevent environment related disease it is essential to understand and quantify the underlying causes and related risk factors. To achieve this goal, a challenging approach for European research has been outlined in the action plan. This array of research actions is expected to lead to a much deeper understanding of environmental health risks.'

To view the action plan, please consult the following web address: alth/index_en.htm

For more information on health research under FP6, please visit: html

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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