There are close links between the environment and people’s health. A high quality environment enables people to live longer in good health. Environmental problems such as pollution and flooding can pose significant risks to our health if not properly assessed and managed.
The Environment Agency has a role to play here and can make a significant contribution through its work to reduce pollution and increase public access to a high quality environment.
A major challenge is making people aware of the health risks associated with pollution and how to place these in the context of other risks. This is particularly difficult when there is a level of uncertainty in the scientific knowledge underpinning regulatory decisions. It takes a wide range of skills, knowledge and information to effectively communicate on health issues to the public. Those organisations with roles and responsibilities for public health protection need to work closely together in dealing with environment and health issues.
The relationships between pollution, the environment and health are often complex. A greater understanding of the links between exposure to pollution and the effect it has on health, as well as the impacts on health of mixtures of chemicals, microbes or physical changes in the environment is needed.
The Environment Agency's role
The Environment Agency has a statutory regulatory duty to protect human health and the environment. We can’t remove all risk of harm to health from the industries we regulate because it would make them uneconomic and deprive society of the goods they produce and the services they provide. We are working closely with public health bodies in England and Wales to make sure that roles and responsibilities are clear and that we deal with public health issues related to pollution in a co-ordinated way.
To safeguard human health we will:
- Seek advice and help from health professionals whenever needed as we are not medical experts.
- Make sure that we can act effectively on advice and information provided by health professionals in making decisions on the risks to health from the industries we regulate.
- Assess and control potential health issues using existing health criteria and standards where available.
- Promote a process for developing criteria and standards for substances of concern where they do not already exist.
- Use existing health impact information to inform our regulatory work.
- Apply a precautionary approach and work with others to improve knowledge about the impact of environmental factors on health.
- Share information with public health professionals, local authorities and the public.