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The World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe has published a new report entitled “Health Risks of heavy metals from long-range transboundary air pollution” on the sources, chemical proprieties and spatial distribution of cadmium, lead and mercury pollution that evaluates the potential health risks in Europe.

The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) was signed in 1979. Its recently activities persistent organic pollutants (Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), 2001 and heavy metals (Protocol on Heavy Metals), 1998.

“Health Risks of heavy metals from long-range transboundary
air pollution”

The report summarizes the available information about the types of adverse health effect of exposure to cadmium, lead and mercury and evaluates the importance of the contribution of long-range transboundary air pollution (LRTAP) in the issue. The publication also estimates human exposures and health risks resulting from their long-range atmospheric transport though different sources.

The publication consists of one main chapter for each metal, each with the following sections:

– An introduction, summarizing sources, monitored and modelled levels for air and deposition, and the fate of the metal in the environment;
– Pathways and levels of human exposure in relation to LRTAP;
– Health hazard characterization, based on existing toxicological and epidemiological evidence;
– Human health implications of the LRTAP.

Cadmium

– Cadmium emission into the atmosphere and cadmium input into soil must be reduced. Recently published data do not show a decrease in cadmium emissions, ambient air concentrations and deposition in the last decade. Cadmium body burdens in non-smoker has not decreased and there is an accumulation of cadmium in the soil which increases the risk of future exposure through food.

– Food is the main source of cadmium in the general population. Cadmium exposures are associated with kidney and bone damage and an increased risk of lung cancer. The population groups at risk include elderly, people with diabetes, and smokers, specially women because they absorb more cadmium at the same level of exposure.

Lead

– Lead levels in ambient air and atmospheric deposition have decreased in recent decades. Rising lead levels in soils should be avoid because of the possible health risks of low-level exposure. Lead emissions to the atmosphere should be kept as low as possible.

– Although food is the predominant source of lead uptake in the general population, we may also consider the ingestion of contaminated soil, dust, lead intake via drinking water or inhalation exposure. Lead exposures have developmental and neurobehavioural affects on fetuses, infants and children, and elevate blood pressure in adults.

Mercury

– Mercury is toxic in the elemental and inorganic forms but the main concern is associated with the organic compounds, especially methylmercury, a potent neotoxic chemical that enters the human body via dietary route. It exposures have effects on unborn children mainly by the fish in the diet of the mother or by her milk.

– Anthropogenic emissions of mercury in Europe decreased after 1990 and a similar decrease is predicted on the deposition of mercury in the region. However, the levels of mercury in marine fish and mammals has been increased in the Arctic, indicating the impact of long-range transport. Thus, reducing the concentrations of methylmercury in fish should be a high priority. Reducing emissions to the atmosphere and long-range transport of pollution represents a means of achieving this aim.

“European Environment Agency (EEA) to provide improved information on air pollution”

Meanwhile, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has concluded an agreement with a consortium led by the European Space Agency to provide improved information on air pollution.

The EEA will mainly coordinate the provision of surface measurements and other data for GMES services and will use the service to support the implementation of European air quality policies, particularly the Air Quality Directive. The system will provide also the ability to better protect the public by avoiding exposure and take measures to reduce air pollution.

For further information please read the article “Getting an instant, sharper picture of Europe’s air pollution” , on EEA website.

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For further information

World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe
“Health Risks of heavy metals from long-range transboundary air pollution”
(Protocol on Heavy Metals), 1998
European Environment Agency (EEA)
“Getting an instant, sharper picture of Europe’s air pollution”
Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)

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