22 May 2022

The EU-funded project ‘Integrating Environment and Health Research: a Vision for the EU’ brought together the World Health Organization (WHO), national authorities, academics, researchers and NGOs from 15 European countries, to identify the main research needs and priorities on environmental health and develop a research agenda for 2030.

EFA contributed to the development of the Health Environment Research Agenda for Europe (HERA) providing the allergy, asthma and COPD perspective on environmental health research needs.

The health effects of climate change

For airways disease patients, climate change means higher allergenic pollen and extreme weather events that pose a direct threat to respiratory health e.g. heatwaves, wildfires and sand/dust storms. In our contribution, we called for more scientific research on the effects of climate change on health, and for better monitoring, public information, and forecast.

We are glad to see that the final agenda calls for better identification and quantification of the climate change effects on health, as well as of joint effects of multiple exposures, including airborne allergens and multipollutant exposures. It also underlines the need to deepen our knowledge on pollen, especially its combined effects with other pollutants, putting forward a concrete research call to this direction.

Reduction of air pollution in urban settings

On air pollution, we urged for more research on outdoor and indoor air pollution, especially for pollutants not covered by the current EU law, such as ultrafine particles (UFPs), volatile organic compounds, dust, and pollen. Digital technology can be of great support for disseminating new knowledge around these pollutants. EFA also drew attention to the impact of construction materials and of technological aspects such as ventilation, heating and cooling. Finally, we underlined the lack of evidence on the allergenicity of plants in public green spaces.

We were glad to see that the agenda calls for strategies to reduce the risks of air pollution-associated diseases, with equal focus on outdoor and indoor aspects. Unregulated pollutants such as (UFPs) need to be studied for their health impact. Accordingly, further evidence is needed on the allergenicity of plants in urban settings. A better monitoring of pollution exposures is key to prevent diseases such as allergy and asthma, especially in early life.

Prevention of harmful chemical exposures to health

Regarding chemicals and other physical stressors, EFA pointed to the harmful effects of chemical exposures, particularly linked with increased allergy and asthma symptoms. Since until now chemical substances are assessed one at a time and not in combination, we need to advance our understanding on the potential risks of chemical cocktails, for example in daily consumer products such as food, textiles, and cosmetics.

The agenda puts great importance on addressing health and environmental impacts of chemical mixtures, and understanding the role exposomes play in this.

The need for better health impact assessment of environmental risks

On the issue of health impact assessment of environmental risks, we noted that knowledge about the underlying mechanisms leading to allergy, asthma and COPD, and the environmental contribution is scarce. This is an area that will benefit from more research, to further develop understanding on these mechanisms throughout life, as well as the correlations with other diseases with shared risk factors. Supporting exposome research is important in this respect, as it can lead to better disease prevention, care, and health promotion.

From a methodological point of view, the agenda acknowledges the key role of exposome research in bridging the gaps among multiple environmental risk factors, enabling an integrative environmental health risk assessment.

You can find the final HERA Research Agenda 2030, as well as other important information on the project here. EFA’s full response to the consultation is here.