Environmental Public Health
While public health comprises an extremely wide range of topics and subject matter, at IOM our research in this area is intended to further scientific understanding of the relationships between environment, place and human health, taking account of population and socio-economic differences. In particular, we want to help ensure that key scientific knowledge about environment and health is available to inform the development of policy and practice in relevant sectors (i.e. transport, energy, housing, climate change and others).
Outdoor air pollution is a major public issue, partly because everybody is exposed. Long-term exposure increases risks of earlier death and contributes to chronic cardio-respiratory disease; days of higher pollution trigger or worsen many cardio-respiratory conditions, increasing hospital admissions and earlier death. There are substantial health impacts also from indoor air pollution, especially from people smoking indoors. We have internationally recognised expertise in Health Impact Assessment of outdoor air pollution, including use of life table methods to assess mortality impacts and have undertaken important impact assessments for London and other cities and regions worldwide, with current projects in China, India and Thailand.
In collaboration with other scientists, we have been involved in evaluating the effects of the Smoke-Free legislation on second-hand smoke (SHS) levels and the health of bar workers in Scotland and England. We have also investigated the impact of the ban on exposure to SHS of non-smokers living with smokers, on the air quality in cars during smoking and other studies of SHS exposure.
We also have an interest in understanding exposures to airborne particles from indoor air pollution sources such as coal and wood-burning stoves, and the interaction between indoor air quality, ventilation and energy efficiency in buildings.
Our work on pesticides has included important studies of the effects of these chemicals on health and the exposure of workers, residents and bystanders. Our latest investigation concerns those living close to fields that are sprayed with agrochemicals.
Consumer exposure to chemicals
Consumers may be exposed to chemicals from products used in the home, garden or elsewhere in the environment. We have been involved in assessing these exposures for companies marketing and selling products. This work is supported by our laboratory capabilities in analysing a variety of substances many of which come under our UKAS accreditation. Our latest work has investigated the possibility for skin contamination in consumers handling motor oils and diesel fuel.
IOM has been the leading partner in the Scottish Government initiative on the Environmental Determinants of Public Health in Scotland (EDPHiS). This is a multi-disciplinary collaborative research project that aims to support the development of public policy in Scotland, insofar as these policeies affected child health through interactions with their environment. Key concerns we have investigated are: obesity, unintentional injury, mental health and wellbeing, and asthma.
Health Impact Assessment
Our approach to Health Impact Assessment (HIA) incorporates international good practice on how such projects should be conducted. We are at the forefront of developing HIA methodology and guidance with experienced research staff and practitioners with experience in public health, environmental health, epidemiology and statistics that can support both public research based work, but also consultancy services for public authorities. We have developed methods and tools for HIA of air pollution. This work is highly regarded internationally and is described here . For work on life table methods specifically, see the IOMLIFET web page .
Urbanisation, climate & sustainability
Urban areas are facing a range of environmental health challenges including contamination of air, water and soil. Sprawling urban areas contribute to traffic congestion, with associated air pollution, noise and long commuting times affecting public health and productivity across the world. In addition, climate change is likely to aggravate certain urban health risks and inequalities by increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, potentially contributing to air pollution episodes and disturbing urban ecology. The urban heat island effect also exacerbates heat stress in built up areas.
Our approach to urban health and sustainability research is to develop systems-based, interdisciplinary methods involving environmental scientists, epidemiologists, toxicologists, mathematical modellers, IT experts, social scientists, public health researchers and urban planners to elucidate pathways to better health and wellbeing in cities. This includes assessing the risks of climate change, assessing the health impacts of urban interventions, and developing adaptation plans.
IOM co-ordinates the Healthy-Polis International Consortium for Urban Environmental Health and Sustainability and has been involved in a number of urban sustainability research projects such as URGENCHE (Urban Reduction of GHG Emissions in China and Europe)
The involvement of citizens in scientific investigations and co-creation of research projects is an increasingly popular way of empowering communities to influence local environmental issues. IOM are involved in studies where citizens are measuring air pollution and other environmental stressors, and sharing this data with government and others. We are part of the international Citi-Sense project and are actively involved in developing small low-cost pollution sensors and mobile applications for community use.