The interconnection between environment, human health and social well-being is evident in our everyday life. Health is thereby also affecting environment policies, but political responses taking into account the interaction between environment and health issues had not been present in the EU prior to the launch of the European Environment and Health Strategy in 2003.
There is a complexity in creating legislation and measures within the interface of the two fields, since covering the main environmental determinants of health requires actions across a wide range of policies and responsibilities. Some early legislation on environmentally related health hazards such as chemicals, pesticides, waste, noise, air and water pollution etc. was present at the time of the launch of the strategy. However, the fields were generally treated separately since the responsibility of policy making, costs and benefits for environmental health fall under several policy sectors.
The European Environment and Health Strategy is also known as the SCALE initiative, is based on Science, focusing on Children, that raises Awareness on the interconnections between environment and health that uses the Legal instruments, including constant and continuous Evaluation to verify the efficacy and cost effectiveness of the actions. Founded on the 6th Environment Action Programme, the strategy aims at gaining a better understanding of the complex interactions between the environment and health and striving to reduce the disease burden caused by environmental factors in the EU.
The stepwise implementation of the strategy is performed in several cycles. The first cycle which ended in 2011, focused on childhood respiratory diseases, asthma and allergies, neuro-developmental disorders, childhood cancer and endocrine-disrupting effects. It was put into practice through the Environment and Health Action Plan, EHAP (2004-2010), by means of 13 recommended actions. The Action Plan was adopted by the European Commission on June 9 2004, with the approach to improve understanding of links between diseases and environmental risk factors and to integrate environment, health monitoring and response to gather information and simplify communication between authorities at different levels. A number of EU-funded projects such as ENVIRISK, HEIMTSA and INTARESE were formed to support environmental health in policy and legislation at the time of the development of the Action Plan.
The 13 actions have been clustered under the following headings; i) improving the information chain by developing integrated environment and health information to understand the links between sources of pollutants and health effects, ii) filling the knowledge gap by strengthening research on environment and health and identifying emerging issues and iii) reviewing policies and improving communication by developing awareness raising, risk communication, training and education to give citizens the information they need to make better health choices, and to make sure that professionals in each field are alert to environment and health interactions.
The second cycle of the Strategy should have started in 2011, but due to several reasons –among which the financial crisis – the political priorities have altered and no second part of the Environment and Health Action Plan has yet been launched.