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The Impact of Environment On Health - Mihael Gubas

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published a new study entitled "Healthy environment, healthy living: how the environment affects health and well-being in Europe", which concludes that in 2012, 13% of all deaths in the EU could be attributed to environmental pollution. and human health. They immediately refer to the conclusion of the World Health Organization (WHO) according to which these deaths could have been prevented, and add that similar outcomes can be reduced in the future by increasing efforts to improve the quality of the environment.

They point out that the current state of the environment in Europe has a negative effect on the health and quality of life of Europeans. According to WHO data in 2016, the number of deaths caused by the state of the environment was estimated at 630,000 cases. The burden of diseases resulting from the environmental situation is uneven, and while the situation is best in Iceland and Norway (9%), it is worst in Albania (23% of deaths) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (27%) such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and neurological disorders.

Air pollution is a major cause of disease caused by environmental pollution. Poor indoor air quality is associated with solid fuel heating, which causes around 26,000 premature deaths per year in the European Economic Area. After polluted air, noise is another disruptive factor affecting human health. It claims 12,000 lives a year and is linked to another 48,000 cases of ischemic heart disease. Then there are climate changes that affect health, for example by sudden changes in weather and more frequent heat strokes, extreme cold and rapid and extreme changes in temperature. But in addition, climate change is causing zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 as well as those that spread through water and food. Thus, the evidence collected so far suggests that prolonged exposure to polluted air may increase susceptibility to COVID-19 as well.

Following the climate, exposure to hazardous chemicals also causes damage to human health, and the WHO estimates that globally, 2.7% of deaths can be attributed to this cause. In the EU, the situation is complicated because the overall negative impact of chemicals on humans is not really known. The European Environment Agency points out that there are gaps in understanding how chemicals affect human health in the EU because they can have "synergistic and long-lasting effects on the endocrine system". However, while we even know something about it - the impact of electromagnetic fields on people is more or less a „health mistery“, but it is necessary to start dealing with it, according to the Environment Agency, since this impact on people is expected to increase. Although there are well-defined acute health effects of exposure to certain electromagnetic fields (on the neurological system and senses, tissue warming…) there is little evidence regarding long-term effects on the health of the general population. In addition to these, there is also the issue of water quality, both drinking and communal, antibiotic pollution that creates resistance and allows the development of superbugs. It seems that the problems of bacterial infection (various sepsis) and antibiotic resistance in the EU could affect 25,000 people a year. But death is not the only thing that environmental pollution causes, but it also causes an increase in cardiovascular disease, stroke, asthma, hypertension, dementia, stress, and heat stroke, diabetes and immunological diseases.

The most exposed to dangers from the polluted environment are the most socially exposed groups of society. At the macro level, this becomes clear at a glance at the pollution map in Europe. The situation is much better in the richer than in the poorer countries of the continent. The same pattern is shown at the micro level within individual countries. Older people and children are particularly at risk from these problems. In one pan-European group about the presence of harmful substances in the environment - harmful chemicals were found in the urine of 90 percent of women and children! Exposure to dirty air, noise, heating with solid fuels (as opposed to heating with sustainable energy sources) and the like, depends on where we live, where we go to school, where we farm, where we go to work. These are all socio-economic issues inseparable from the topic of environmental pollution and health impacts. The European Environment Agency therefore draws particular attention to the social aspects of pollution and emphasizes that the small number of options available to us to start addressing these issues must by no means become an excuse for inaction.

As solutions, they certainly offer "green options" - from the simplest - maintenance, preservation, and planting of new parks and forests in urban areas, to the preservation of the sea in coastal areas. Biodiversity conservation, ecological transport and other well-known ideas. A quality natural environment also encourages physical activity, relaxation and regeneration, and also helps social cohesion (as can be seen, for example, in the example of social movements that grew out of the need to preserve parks, rivers, forest, etc.). Staying in the green belt encourages better functioning of the immune system, mental health and cognitive functions, reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of developing diabetes, lower infant mortality and ultimately - in general - reduced premature deaths.

EEA explains the evidence of the positive impact of nature on man in about 50 pages of research, which I present here briefly. Due to such a lack of accurate information, instead of understanding the environment in which we live, we begin to trust some celebrities and religious fundamentalists, we develop conspiracy theories about vaccines and telecom networks, and soon probably about electromagnetic influences. In the last dozens of pages of its research, the EEA lists concrete possible steps to achieve the goals, but this is where the political issues actually begin, and the Environment Agency loses power. The instruments for achieving a better life and a healthier environment are not really unknown, it is not necessary to devise some radically new solutions that require technology that we do not have and that is in its infancy, will not be commercially available for a long time. Therefore, as it subtly permeates this, but all other research published on the topic of climate change in recent X years, we actually need a change in the social paradigm. And in order to make it happen, we all need to have accurate information, not look for answers to crucial social problems in conspiracy theories. The problem is also that the most widely available information is not well enough processed, it does not offer the public an insight into the overall causal sequence, and the lack of that insight results in conspiracy theories. Therefore, it is difficult to expect that the state of our environment will improve, as long as its overexploitation is economically viable. And it is profitable as long as the real price of that exploitation is not counted. The real price does not count because, as we have already said, the public's combination of all this is not transparent.


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