Health

Substantial progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, air and other pollutants, and improving energy and material efficiency, needs to be complemented by more actions by Member States to fully apply agreed-to policies to better protect biodiversity, natural resources, and people’s health. These are the key findings of a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report which reviews key trends and outlook towards achieving EU 2020 environmental objectives.

European society faces a range of health and social issues that merit urgent attention. The EU health sector represents 15% of public expenditure and health care costs are expected to increase.

The WHO, in a review on the health effects of air pollution, has recommended that that the EU should have tighter air quality standards for pollutant PM2.5. Current EU law has a limit value of 25ug/m3 to be met by January 2015, and an indicative limit value of 20ug/m3 from January 2020, subject to a review in 2013. The Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution (REVIHAAP) concluded that there is a “strong need” to at least lower the 20ug/m3 limit.

The European Commission has concluded that the use of chemicals in the EU has become safer since REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) came into force five years ago. The legislation sets out a timetable for manufacturers to register 30,000 of the approximately 100,000 chemicals on the market in Europe. Under the EU’s precautionary principle, European businesses are obliged to find substitutes for chemicals deemed potentially unsafe.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has challenged the way the EU deals with endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) claiming that a risk assessment approach would be more appropriate. There are currently two strands of thinking when dealing with dangerous chemicals such as these, the hazard-based approach, which is the current strategy used by the EU, or a risk-based policy which is now being put forward by EFSA. The hazard-based approach follows the idea that a hazard only becomes a concern once the exposure level goes above a certain level.

A proposal by the European Commission to instate a two-year ban on the use of pesticides, which are linked to the decline of bee populations, has been rejected by member states with only 13 of 27 nations voting in favour of the ban. Those who voted against the Commissions proposal included the Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia while Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, Slovenia, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta, France, Sweden, Latvia and Cyprus supported the ban.

On May 6th 2013 a new EU Green Infrastructure strategy was announced; which will seek to place natural systems such as wetlands, river banks or stone beaches, as the preferred solution for coastal protection or absorption of excess rain water. The strategy marks a distinct change in approach and was celebrated as a ‘Eureka Moment’ by Green Campaigners in Brussels. The EU statement on the matter argued that compared to man-made infrastructure, natural Green Infrastructure is both more durable and cheaper to use.