Environment & Human Health
Areas of interest
Pollutants, Pathogens, Pathways and People
The E&HH Science Advisory Committee has identified a number of potential areas of interest, and these are summarised below.
Transport and dynamics of micro-organisms of human health importance in the natural environment
- response of microbial transfers to environmental change
- science based issues of scaling up from the local site to the catchment or appropriate policy level
- gene flow (e.g. involving antibiotic resistance) through the microbial horizontal gene pool
- harnessing a systems biology approach to help understand complex processes in the soil microbial environment where indirect impacts on human health may result in terms of surface water quality or bathing water quality
- interactions of microorganisms and pollutants
- integration and quantification of risks to humans through both environmental and other pathways
- the risks of organic agriculture (including trans-national transport of pathogens) through different approaches to crop and animal production
Emerging infectious diseases
- risk assessment, the use of indicators, and anticipatory modelling of novel pathogen dynamics
- influence of global and local environmental change (e.g. climate change, N deposition, deforestation; as well as land use change, for example CAP reform and the EU Water Framework Directive)
- ecology of wildlife reservoirs and vectors in emergent diseases
- role of farm workers in disease transmission
Transport and dynamics of both chemicals and particles of different sizes and compositions in the natural environment that are of human health importance
- assessment of exposure and bioavailability from various physical (soil, water, air, food) and behavioural pathways through different routes (e.g. developing and using effective biomarkers) to better inform toxicology, epidemiology and human risk assessment
- active features of particles that cause problems, e.g. surface properties, size and composition
- interactive effects of mixtures of chemicals in the environment and the impact on human health, exploiting sensitive analytical and molecular techniques
- chronic low level exposures to toxins, leading to human health effects including trans-generational toxicity (genetic and epigenetic) and other long term outcomes
- inter-individual susceptibility to environmental factors and interactions (e.g. toxicity), including genetic make up, particularly with respect to susceptible groups such as foetus, children, elderly, and those with ill health or receiving medication; including the extent to which these differences may be socially structured
- effect of changes in the environment (e.g. climate change, land use change) on human health; regulatory changes leading to land use change and impacts of changes on the pollution profile and nutrient depletion
- soil degradation and trace metal deficiencies affecting human health
Technologies providing new capabilities for establishing and predicting the impact of the environment on human health
- application of new techniques including computational, physical, engineering, analytical chemistry/biochemistry methods, i.e. application of massively parallel screening approaches possibly using new lab-on-a-chip methods for understanding the interplay of pathogens/toxic agents with other environmental agents on human health.
- novel techniques for studying pathogenic microbes or pollutants (chemicals or particles) in the environment where a potential link to human health may be important.
- approaches to enable an understanding of the impact of nanotechnology and nanoparticles on human health.
- data analysis/modelling tools, including approaches such as machine learning or other intelligent agents, possibly providing predictive capability from large data sets gathered from social, environmental or medical studies. It is anticipated that these tools could provide predictive models of relevance to human health, or alternatively provide models for fate and transport.
Social, economic and behavioural factors in the genesis and health impact of environmental hazards
- what are the macro-social factors and processes for example, business organisation, trade, urbanisation and population change, influencing the exposure of people to environmental risks and hazards (pathogens and pollutants)?
- what is the role of factors such as socio-economic status, age, gender, and culture in shaping behaviours relevant to environmental health risks?
- how does a stressful social or physical environment impact on biological processes linking the environment and disease?
- what is the importance of age, culture, social position, disability, and illness for resilience and adaptive capacity in the face of environmental health hazards?
- what is the impact of differing perceptions of risk and attitudes in enhancing public engagement and dialogue about environment and health issues?
- how are political, economic, cultural and social forces shaping the emergence of new environmental health risks and benefits and how may these be managed?
- can we quantify the benefits to human health of changes in the environment such as the spatial distribution of and access to green space?
- what are the economic and social costs (or benefits) of environmental impacts on health? These themes were produced by the Science Advisory Committee.
These themes have been built on using the outputs of previous consultations. A full report on the 2004 NERC consultation on Environment and Human Health and the joint NERC, BBSRC, MRC, ESRC and Wellcome Trust Workshop that took place on 14 & 15 December 2004 is available as a PDF document.
Please note that Environmental Science in the context of this Programme means fields of research traditionally associated with NERC. This includes abiotic and biotic processes occurring on the land and in the sea, in freshwater, in the soil and in the atmosphere. We exclude processes that do not occur in the "natural environment" of NERC's remit: for example restricted to the inside of buildings or the surface of human skin.
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