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Environment_ Pollution and Human Health Theme

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					Environment, Pollution and Human Health Theme
Theme Action Plan VISION Environmental factors play a very major role in human disease. Research in the EPHH theme is directed at elucidating key environmental processes and providing a predictive capability for both biotic and abiotic environmental influences on human disease and wellbeing, in collaboration with other stakeholders. The ultimate vision is to reduce the burden of human disease linked with environmental causes, and to anticipate new threats to public health before they become serious. HIGH PRIORITY THEME CHALLENGES The Science Theme Report for Environment, Pollution and Human Health (URL: http://www.nerc.ac.uk/about/strategy/documents/theme-report-health.pdf) identifies the following challenges: Challenge 1: Improve measurement and monitoring of the distribution of pollutants and pathogens at required time and space scales. Challenge2: Improve knowledge of processes and models of the dynamics of transport and transformation of pollutants and pathogens in the environment. Challenge 3: Improve assessment of pollutant and pathogen exposure and risk to humans. Challenge 4: Understand the impacts of waste management activities on the environment and human health. PROPOSED ACTIONS Pollutants and Human Health. The major environment-related health threats in Europe are air pollution, poor water quality and hazardous chemicals. These threats are often inter-connected and the adverse impact of exposures to low levels of chemicals often in complex mixtures are of growing concern. Persistent chemicals with long-term effects and those used in long life articles may present risks even after their production has been phased out. New substances enter the environment from a wide range of human activities and their environmental pathways and effects on health are poorly understood. A series of meetings with the Medical Research Council culminated in a large meeting held in London in March 2009 in which the possible outlines for a research programme were discussed. Topics which were considered high priority included the following: effects of multiple stressors including pollutant mixtures; the effects of fluctuating as opposed to constant exposures, effects in wildlife and domesticated animals as an early warning for human effects; innovative methods in statistics and bioinformatics; application of recently discovered biomarkers; and susceptibility by virtue of health status, genetics and/or exposure. A proposal for a joint programme will be put to both NERC and MRC in the summer of 2009, with a view to the possible issue of a call for proposals in late 2009 or early 2010. Environmental and social ecology of infectious diseases. The environment is a critical mediator of the human risk from many diseases. Familiar examples are malaria transmitted by mosquitoes and cholera and typhoid spread by contaminated water. However, due to the unprecedented rate of environmental change and the massive growth of human travel and goods traffic, new disease threats are continually emerging. Recent examples which have received much public attention are avian influenza, SARS, Lyme Disease and West Nile virus. Some are diseases due to the evolution of microorganisms; other are brought to the UK by the changing geographic ranges of vector

organisms. In many cases, if the human disease threat is to be understood, predicted and managed, the ecology of pathogenic organisms, animal hosts and disease vectors needs to be studied at a fundamental level. A series of meetings with the Medical Research Council including workshops in Birmingham and London have led to a proposal for a joint research programme between NERC and MRC which will be considered by both Councils during the summer of 2009. Areas of particular interest to NERC scientists include the study of wildlife reservoirs of disease, the ecology of human disease vectors and the dynamics of human pathogens in the soil as an environmental reservoir, but many other topics are likely to be included. Macronutrient cycles (SUNR, EPHH, BIO, ESS, TEC). The overall goal is to quantify the scales (magnitude and spatial/temporal variation) of N and P fluxes and nature of transformations through the catchment (defined as including airshed, river basin and associated coastal system) within the context of changing C fluxes. Perturbation of natural cycles through human activities mean that interactions between macronutrient cycles (N, C, and P) and with climate will play an increasingly important role in global biogeochemical cycles, in sustaining natural resources, and in protecting human health and biodiversity in the future. Human activities have amplified global cycles of N and P by on average 100% and 400%, respectively, with far greater localised increases for N in particular. This action seeks to understand and quantify the transformations, pathways and fluxes of integrated cycles of macronutrients (N, P and C) in order to be able to predict responses to the changing environment. The action will build on significant recent technological advances that enable the quantification of fluxes and transformations in coupled macronutrient cycles not previously possible. The research challenge is to devise approaches to integrate the spatially and temporally variable fluxes of these cycles, and to ask appropriate research questions of different parts of the system to advance our current process understanding. Consequently, the action will aim to unpick the contributions and feedbacks across a range of scales. To do this it will need to integrate: (a) atmospheric influx from the air catchment at short (seconds to minutes) timescale; (b) terrestrial and freshwater transformations and flow pathways of macronutrients, which are integrated in rivers at timescales from days to weeks across sub-catchments (10’s to 100’s km2); (c) interactions within the marine system, where the scale increases to the coastal shelf seas and operate over timescales from months to years. This is a major action and the scope is UK scale. Through LWEC, there are opportunities for international links. The RP will deliver science connected with EPHH challenges 1 and 2 on measurement and monitoring of pollutant pathogens on appropriate temporal and special scales, and creating better understanding of environmental processes affecting pollutants and pathogens, respectively. The action will help deliver the third challenge that is concerned with the evaluation of human risk. Specific science challenges include (i) evaluating the influence of nutrient enrichment of the soil upon its role as a reservoir for human pathogens, (ii) quantifying the role of atmospheric nitrogen deposition as a contributor to nitrates in soil and surface waters and in the nutrient enrichment of lakes and coastal seas in the production of toxic algal blooms, (iii) evaluating nitrogen ingress to groundwater in relation to the EU nitrate in drinking water standard, and (iv) evaluating nitrogenous precursors (e.g. NOx) as a contributor to formation of toxic secondary air pollutants, such as ozone. Reducting uncertainty in models for decision-making. In many areas of NERC science, numerical models provide the best available tool for simulating environmental processes and pathways and for predicting the impact of changing inputs, environmental conditions or human interventions upon environmental concentrations and human exposures. There are, however, many instances in which such models are limited by uncertainties in describing and quantifying fundamental processes which underpin the models. Discussions are currently taking place with Defra and the Environment Agency with a view to establishing a joint programme of research aimed at identifying the major causes of uncertainty in such models and carrying out work aimed at reducing those uncertainties. These discussions are currently at a relatively early stage and any resultant research programme is unlikely to commence before 2011.


				
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