So very quickly, in 15 minutes,
what I wanted to do was introduce you to some of the evidence,
recently published on where we are
with this environment and health and wellbeing nexus in Ireland.
And as Laura mentioned earlier on, yes, our environment
is good in general, and it certainly is an excellent support
of our competitive economy, our public health status,
and it is a significant advantage both economically and socially.
But though we have a good environment
there are underlying challenges and trends that create problems.
The systemic issues – the three that we identified,
environment and health is one of the clear cross-cutting all of society,
all of policy, all of economy,
issues that we do have to engage with, on an ongoing basis, not just now.
Very quickly, there was an infographic in the start
and it looked at 20 years of State of the Environment.
And we have done some things rather excellently
and we have done other things not so excellently.
So it’s a mixed bag. Yes, our population is up a million.
We have a million more cars.
We have a fraction of the sulphur dioxide emissions we used to have.
Serious pollution of rivers is grossly or dramatically reduced and so on.
But other areas have not done so well.
And natural heritage areas haven’t improved really significantly in 20 years.
So it’s a mixed record of how we have done in Ireland.
Some high level statements
to set the grounds for this presentation are:
there are aspects of our environment that are causing us harm.
And that’s linked to the fourth comment there.
We are not just trying to protect the environment for and from our people.
So yes, we pollute the environment
through how we live and how we work
and how we commute, how we consume.
We pollute the environment.
But we are also here to try to protect you from the environment,
because the environment is harming you.
And part of our job is to raise that in policy discourse.
So as a consequence of this people are dying prematurely in Ireland.
And what we don’t know, we have good mortality data,
we really have very poor morbidity data out there.
And it’s un-quantified.
And that’s something we have to improve in the years to come.
And we will also present, in our State of the Environment Report,
a new model for the factors,
the determinants of health and wellbeing in the environmental space.
And we identify six core environmental needs for health and wellbeing
which are, access to amenity, a stable environment,
clean water, clean air, safe food and safe shelter.
These six core elements determine health and wellbeing.
And we are exposed to harms through a variety of actions
whether it’s washing, hearing, touching, drinking, eating, living, smelling.
And those harms all come from three broad categories
– either through our built environment,
our natural environment and our consumption, our behaviours.
And it could be radon, it could be noise, it could be chemicals,
it could be degraded ecosystems, climate change, air pollutants.
So it’s a complex web.
And what we are trying to do is understand the connectivities and modalities in there.
It’s not easy, and it is a classical horrid problem.
But in essence there are four groups of hazards.
They are either biological, chemical, radiological and physical.
So taking the biological first.
We are looking there at the bacteriological
- E. coli, water contamination, norovirus in the water, parasitic
- crypto in our water - and bio-aerosols from composting plants,
and also from normal agricultural activities,
when you go cut your garden with your lawnmower,
or if you take out a strimmer you are putting quite a lot of bio-aerosols up in the air.
But we know in this area that 16 supplies,
7,000 people in Ireland today are on boil notices.
We have the highest rate of VTEC in Europe and all related to drinking water.
There are 43 direct discharges of untreated human effluent to our waters,
and this is water we drink, water we take our food from and water we play in.
And we are still discharging.
We haven’t really advanced from the middle ages
when culvert sewers were developed.
It’s a thousand years later is it or something like that,
and we are still doing the same thing.
It’s quite disappointing I think would be the word.
30% of private wells, we know to be contaminated by E. coli.
The chemical side that we are looking at,
the evidence, we have lead in water, there’s pesticides,
there’s trihalomethanes, and there are thousands of contact related harms,
in our homes, through pesticides, herbicides, detergents,
all of these chemicals you use every day in your home or in your work place.
And we can’t even begin to understand all of those.
The particulate matter, of course, and volatile organic carbon compounds
which are associated with petroleums
and PAHs from burning of materials, ammonia, ozone and heavy metals.
So we know from these chemical harms,
a lot of the source, particularly for air pollution is traffic emissions
in cities and solid fuel burning in towns.
So people are pretty much harming themselves.
They are choosing to burn certain types of solid fuel
that cause air pollution, that harm the community.
We have about 1,200 premature deaths in Ireland associated with poor air quality.
So by the end of today three more people have died prematurely in Ireland
as a consequence of poor air quality.
Most of it is associated with cardio-vascular,
but there are 14% due to COPD and ALRI to a lesser extent.
So radiological, the fourth kind of cluster,
we have ionising and non-ionising radiation.
But the majority of the radiation we are exposed to is natural.
It comes through cosmic, geological forms or naturally in our soils in our food,
and artificial weapons and energy for power stations really is less than 0.5%.
In fact I have left out of this that medical radiation,
accounts for about 13.5% of the exposure we have.
There’s a lot of natural radon out there.
15% of the 60,000 homes tested were above the national reference level.
And yet when this evidence was brought to people
in the return of the testing what we found is that
people weren’t taking appropriate actions
and there will be a talk later on this afternoon
which will explore some of the behavioural challenges
of why people didn’t respond to the fact
when they were told that the indoor air quality of their home was harming them.
And there’s 250 annual lung cancers attributed to this.
My understanding is that the mortality rate
is around 75% for lung cancer. So it’s quite significant.
And then the fourth category is the physical.
As Mike mentioned earlier on,
in Ireland 60% of our population live in urban.
And if you include suburban as well,
well over 75% of our population live in urban-suburban areas.
We are kind of living on top of each other, you know, it’s a crowded space.
And you know that’s a cause of stress, anxiety, nausea,
sleep interruption, and generally wellbeing.
And noise, after air, is recognised by the WHO
as the second largest environmental cause of threat.
They looked at a study, particularly on transport related noise
for road, rail and air, and nearly a million cases of hypertension
estimated associated with that around Europe,
and 10,000 premature deaths.
So very significant.
And 80%, we have evidence as well on odour and noise.
80% of the complaints to the EPA are associated with odour.
And we are also clearly upset by waste discarded in our countryside,
which upsets us.
It impacts on our sense of joy, really.
And 70,000 tonnes, you know that’s what you and ….
well not you, I hope not you….
that’s what fellow Irish people are doing.
70,000 tonnes, if you think about….
think of a Ford Fiesta or a Renault Clio,
they are both about a tonne each.
So 70,000 Ford Fiestas, 70,000 Clios, that’s what you are looking at.
That’s the volume that we chose to dump in our countryside.
So final slide with loads of minutes to go.
Emerging evidence, risks, challenges, we heard this morning
that the evidence certainly is emerging about the value of green and blue spaces
and we have a lot of research we are promoting on that at the moment,
both with the universities and with ERSI.
Some of the evidence is next door, early work on and poster displays.
Climate change certainly – Ireland,
we may not suffer to the extreme way many other nations around the world will,
but it certainly will introduce new diseases,
stress, maybe heat stroke, certainly air quality,
sanitation and safe shelter will all be challenges.
There are new chemicals and substances,
and Mike, much more eloquently than I, articulated that point.
But that’s an ongoing stress and challenge,
and one that at policy level is really not very well managed.
There is the diffuse…I think as a nation, Ireland,
sewer discharges aside, 43 of them,
but we have kind of cracked the point pollution thing,
you know, the pipe into the river, the pipe into the air,
through industrial pollution control and local authority regulation.
We are pretty much, and if we haven’t cracked it,
we certainly know where they are.
But this diffuse pollution, this low-level kind of chronic pollution
of our environment and what harm it’s causing,
that’s a much more difficult nut to crack.
Anti-microbial resistance is an emerging issue.
And one certainly that we are very poor at understanding is synergenicity.
We have very good evidence of the toxicity of certain chemicals,
whether it’s dioxins, even those are challenging actually, lead, or whatever.
But it’s the interaction of different pollutants,
the synergenistic effect is really poor.
We really don’t, and we have some way of analysing through Monte Carlo,
very sophisticated Monte Carlo assessments, but we just don’t know.
And it’s an area certainly for further research.
There are policy tensions out there that are harming our environment.
The State, in a bid to lower carbon emissions,
reduced the vehicle registration tax
for low-carbon emission vehicles, diesel it turned out to be.
But the consequence was that particulate levels,
the high particulate levels that came from diesel
are causing health impacts in our communities.
Our policy makers are not really looking at things on a joined-up level.
We have to be far more sophisticated in looking at health impact assessment
through new policy instruments and tackling these externalities.
And environmentally harmful subsidies are also linked to that.
We currently subsidise peat harvesting which
harms the peat stocks in the State,
takes carbon sinks out of the ground.
So it’s contributing to climate change
and also introduces particulate to the air.
And these are subsidies.
The State is paying companies to pollute us.
It just doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
Perhaps that’s controversial,
I didn’t get that one cleared with Laura upfront.
But how and ever.
So behavioural change, an awful lot of the harms being caused are self-induced.
We are responsible for the vast majority of harms
through choices we make and choices we refuse to make.
Our diagnostics is something we have to work with the medical sector,
yourselves really, to improve the diagnostics
and recording of evidence in and around morbidity and mortality
and to try to determine environmental factors that might be influencing that.
And, as Mike again said, there is a huge future in big data.
Really crunching big data sets of environmental quality,
air quality, soil quality, land quality, groundwater quality,
against health clusters, population density and so on,
to look at these kind of larger emerging issues
from diffuse and chronic challenges.
Thank you very much.
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Dr Jonathan Derham, EPA
Ireland’s Environment – An Assessment 2016: Update on Environment & Health in Ireland