European Environment Agency (EEA)

Environment and human health


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

In 2010, the comprehensive European environment - State and outlook 2010 report showed that environmental policies have delivered substantial progress in improving the state of the environment in Europe. However, it also stressed that major environmental challenges remain.

Water and air pollution have declined but not enough to achieve good ecological quality in all water bodies or to ensure good air quality in all urban areas. Widespread exposure to multiple pollutants and chemicals and concerns about long-term damage to human health together imply the need for more integral and precautionary approaches.

Given the complex links between environmental challenges, identification of environmental risks to human health and well-being should go beyond immediate and individual health impacts of a few well-known stressors. Multiple exposures, long-term impacts, inequalities and resource use patterns should also be addressed.

It is in this context that this EEA-JRC reference report on environment and health has been produced. It tries to capture the most pertinent environmental problems and their policy implications, as identified and addressed in on-going work at the JRC and EEA.

Part I discusses the evolving understanding of environmental and health relationships, from focusing on isolated, specific issues, towards increasing recognition of highly complex, multifactorial interdependencies.

Key points:

  • The quality of the environment in Europe has improved considerably over recent decades with benefits to human health. EU citizens live longer than in many other parts of the world, but health challenges of the ageing population may increase due to lifestyle changes and environmental megatrends (climate change, depletion of natural resources and the disruption of ecosystems services).
  • Non-communicable diseases represent the greatest burden of mortality and morbidity in the EU. These diseases have multifactorial backgrounds that are not sufficiently understood. Exposure to air pollution, noise, poor quality water, chemicals, radiation, biological agents, and otherwise degraded environments are important components.
  • Considerable health inequalities exist. Life expectancy and the number of Healthy Life Years differ substantially between Member States and between genders. Evidence from European countries indicates that low-income populations are more exposed to degraded environments.
  • A more integrated analytical framework is needed to fully identify the environmental factors that contribute to the burden of disease and at the same time address the interactions between the social, ecological, and physical aspects of our environment.

Part II presents 11 thematic chapters, addressing several environmental issues which, currently and in the future, are likely to affect human health and well-being in Europe.

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