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Health organisations’ recommendations to step up on clean air for health with science-based air quality standards

Health organisations’ recommendations to step up on clean air for health with science-based air quality standards
Green Health

On March 2023, the Health and Environment Alliance, together with a number or relevant health organisations at EU level, has written a letter to the Members of  the European Parliament – Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety – to urge the revision of the AAQD putting people’s health at the forefront of EU policy and preventing further ill health.

The burden of environmental disease is unevenly spread across Europe, with the percentage of deaths attributable to environmental factors. Environmental pollution is linked to a range of disease outcomes, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and neurological disorders. Living with these diseases reduces quality of life, with more than 20 million healthy life-years lost because of disease attributable to poor-quality environments.

To combat poor outdoor air quality, the World Health Organization (WHO) has produced a series of guidelines to support policymakers in setting air quality management strategies. Although these guidelines are neither standards nor legally binding criteria, they are based on expert evaluation of scientific evidence and are, thus, a valuable source of information.

In light of this, the European Union has stated its intent to revise the current Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD), a cornerstone for the protection of people’s health and the environment from air pollution, to get closer to the new WHO guidelines.

On March 2023, the Health and Environment Alliance, together with a number or relevant health organisations at EU level, has written a letter to the Members of  the European Parliament – Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety – to urge the revision of the AAQD putting people’s health at the forefront of EU policy and preventing further ill health.

Three recommendations are included in the letter to step up clean air for health with science-based air quality standards: 1) Fully align EU air quality standards with WHO recommendations and the latest science by 2030 at the latest, introducing binding limit values for pollutants while acknowledging and addressing health inequities; 2) Include a comprehensive definition of vulnerable and susceptible groups in accordance with WHO and strengthen public information on air quality as a public health measure that prevents and protects; 3) Ensure the most protective enabling framework for health is created by avoiding compliance delays and exemptions, increasing the density and representativeness of monitoring stations, and enabling regular independent review of evidence by WHO.

ECHAlliance is particularly interested in this topic and is currently fully engaged in three initiatives which are investigating the harmful effects of air pollution on disease.

The H2020 BRAINTEASER project,  is a data science project that seeks to exploit the value of big data, including those related to health, lifestyle habits, and environment, to support patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS) and their clinicians. Among other things, the project aims to understand whether different ecological factors can influence the disease phenotype and progression of ALS and MS patients, studying how disease characteristics can be modified by environmental factors such as increased exposure to environmental pollutants.

As the exposure to air pollution occurs both indoors and outdoors and people spend most of their time indoors, the Horizon Europe K-HEALTHinAIR project aims to increase knowledge about chemical and biological indoor air pollutants affecting human health and to provide solutions for more accurate monitoring and improvement of indoor air quality. Within the project, rigorous research action based on data collected through real-life scenarios, public health surveillance and particularly vulnerable groups such as high-risk outpatients, the elderly, pregnant women and children, will investigate the holistic correlations between the characterization of indoor air quality and its adverse health effects.

In both projects, ECHAlliance leads the stream of work dedicated to stakeholder engagement, communication and dissemination. In this role, ECHAlliance is responsible for designing the strategy and actions to raise awareness of the project results, with the aim of achieving their sustainability beyond the project funding period. To promote the acceptance of the innovation, more effort is devoted to translating and communicating project results and outputs, making them accessible and understandable to society at large.

Finally, worth to mention, is also the involvement of ECHAlliance in the Environmental policy working group within the Policies for a Healthy Europe initiative. The working group aims to investigate the link between air pollution, climate change and health and makes recommendations to improve the European Commission’s standing initiatives in this field.

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