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Health impacts of air pollution need to be communicated more effectively

Reductions in air pollution in European cities significantly reduce the number of premature deaths, according to researchers. However, these results need to be communicated effectively to policy makers in order to have an impact.

One of the four main target areas of the EUís Sixth Environment Action Programme (EAP) is Environment and Health, which includes air pollution. The EU Air Quality Directive has set new air quality objectives for particulate matter 2.5.

The EU supported Apheis project (Air Pollution and Health Ė A European Information System) started in 1999 to track the effects of air pollution on health in 26 European cities. It also tracked how results are communicated to policy makers to better understand how research findings are converted into action.

The project used indicators, such as premature death and life expectancy, for a health impact assessment (HIA) of PM10 and PM2.5. It identified 26 urban centres that could implement these HIAs. To analyse the path of communication between research findings and policy, the researchers interviewed 32 individuals involved in air pollution and health policy in the UK and Spain.

The research on the communication to policy makers indicated that policy advisors and makers are generally unlikely to use standard scientific reports. A long complex chain of many players leads from the scientists to the policy makers. On the basis of this a strategy was developed to communicate Apheisís findings along the whole chain. It suggested that research findings should be shaped to the different needs of scientific and policy users. For example, policy users tend to require distilled information with clear messages and implications for policy. This could be done with a range of communications tools beyond scientific reports, such as summary reports, interviews, brochures, presentations and Q&As. By ensuring a firm link to policy, important research findings on air pollution may have a greater impact.

Source: Science for Environment Policy

HEAL member, Dr.Hanns Moshammer (Internation Society of Doctors for the Environment, ISDE Austria) is a partner of Aphekom, a project designed specifically to improve knowledge and communication for decision making on air pollution and health in Europe.

The Aphekom project develops and delivers new, reliable and actionable information and tools so decision makers can set more effective local and European policies; health professionals can better advise vulnerable groups; and individuals can make better-informed decisions.

During the projectís two and a half years the tasks of Aphekom’s more than 60 scientists and specialists working in 25 cities across Europe include:

- Developing new health-impact indicators with a special focus on traffic given the latest findings on the dangers of living near roads.

- Reporting on health impacts and related costs. Evaluating strategies designed to reduce air pollution.

- Stimulating dialogue between stakeholders.

- Providing guidance to health professionals on helping patients reduce their exposure to air pollution.

In all these ways the project hopes to contribute to the development and evolution of local and European policies aimed at reducing both air pollution and its impact on respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality across Europe.

Read more about Aphekom



Written on 23 March 2010.

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