20 people from 10 countries met in Märsta March 8th 2012 for a Think Tank on the envirohealth challenges the world is facing. Presentations on major envirohealth challenges from researchers and experts, followed by an investigation into ways in which we can be catalysts for change and possible solutions.
Facing the challenges Fiorella Belpoggi director of the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Centre, Ramazzini Institute, Italy, explained how biofuels are a persistent threat to public health. It was originally thought that ethanol would reduce carbon debt but it was recently demonstrated that it doesn’t reduce GHG emissions and it’s combustion produces acetaldehyde and ultrafine particles that are very dangerous to health. Fiorellas conclusion is that mankind has already “paid” for unleaded gasoline in terms of public health.
“We now know that crop-source biofuels like ethanol do not reduce CO2 emissions and biofuels have no better health benefits than current fuels.” She pointed out that the production of edible vegetable raw materials for the production of biofuels could, on the other hand, starve the world.
Hugh Montgomery, Professor University College London took part via Skype. Hugh spoke about the impact of climate change on health. Due to the continual increase of the world’s population by a billion every 12 years, and the extremely fast GDP growth of the world, the debt is increasing in terms of the use of natural resources, risking to exhaust the seas’ biodiversity by 2040 at the current rate of loss. We have a virtual water problem and there are risks to human health from rising temperatures lead to more bacterial diseases and parasite transmission. Heat waves in the South have a significant impact on health. Allergies increase due to the lengthening pollen season. Extreme weather events lead to flooding, droughts, storms and fires with substantial socioeconomic impact. Climate change is a threat to human life and health.
Failure to communicate how pollutants affect us leads to a general lack of knowledge about environmental contaminants such as BPA, bisphenol A (found in baby bottles). Monica Lind, PhD in environmental toxicology and assoc prof Uppsala University, explained that there are plenty of published scientific papers that give results on how environmental contaminants are affecting us but how should the message be got out? She pointed out that physicians, who have a big impact in society, receive very little education about environmental pollutants. Monica has therefore created a course in environment and toxicology with medical aspects and has a regular evening course with 24 students. Summing up her travel through life, Monica said: “I am here because I lived in a particular village and survived, that I heard a lecture by chance, and intuition.”
Åke Wennmalm MD PhD, former environmental director for Stockholm County council discussed the Swedish approach to pharmaceuticals in drinking water. Fish caught just north of Stockholm show an anomaly in testicle tissues. Untreated sewage water contains endocrine disruptors. But sex development in fish depends on the hormonal setup rather than chromosome setup, therefore the water leads to problems in reproduction. There are 3 building blocks for sustainable pharmaceuticals: environmental classification, education and monitoring. A risk classification of pharmaceuticals shows that 85% of products have an insignificant risk, 1% have a high risk. But for more than 50% of the substances there was no data available for risk assessment. Prior to 1995 producers were not obligated to provide ingredient information to get their products authorised. Persistence assessment shows that 52% of consumer products are potentially persistent and while some sewage treatment plants contain no drugs, others have levels of 100%. Chemicals can affect human development at the DNA level of the embryo and a single molecule is enough to threaten normal development and health.
There are problems in India with sewage treatment from pharmaceutical plants. Tremendous development of resistance by microorganisms is found in these waters, and their resistance mechanisms spread. Standards for the emissions from pharmaceutical companies in India are being created and EnvirohealthMatters has put in a bid to carry this out. Åke pointed out that corporate social responsibility should imply that EU companies should not buy these drugs, but this has not reached a sufficient level of acceptance. Sweden has a reimbursement system where patients get price reductions. This system has been based on cost efficiency and medical quality, but there is currently an investigation going on into whether environmental effects could be included in the assessment of the drugs that can be reimbursed.
Please read about the report of the whole event.