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Article

David E. Clay, Sharon A. Clay, Thomas DeSutter, and Cheryl Reese

Since the discovery that food security could be improved by pushing seeds into the soil and later harvesting a desirable crop, agriculture and agronomy have gone through cycles of discovery, implementation, and innovation. Discoveries have produced predicted and unpredicted impacts on the production and consumption of locally produced foods. Changes in technology, such as the development of the self-cleaning steel plow in the 18th century, provided a critical tool needed to cultivate and seed annual crops in the Great Plains of North America. However, plowing the Great Plains would not have been possible without the domestication of plants and animals and the discovery of the yoke and harness. Associated with plowing the prairies were extensive soil nutrient mining, a rapid loss of soil carbon, and increased wind and water erosion. More recently, the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and no-tillage planters has contributed to increased adoption of conservation tillage, which is less damaging to the soil. In the future, the ultimate impact of climate change on agronomic practices in the North American Great Plains is unknown. However, projected increasing temperatures and decreased rainfall in the southern Great Plains (SGP) will likely reduce agricultural productivity. Different results are likely in the northern Great Plains (NGP) where higher temperatures can lead to increased agricultural intensification, the conversion of grassland to cropland, increased wildlife fragmentation, and increased soil erosion. Precision farming, conservation, cover crops, and the creation of plants better designed to their local environment can help mitigate these effects. However, changing practices require that farmers and their advisers understand the limitations of the soils, plants, and environment, and their production systems. Failure to implement appropriate management practices can result in a rapid decline in soil productivity, diminished water quality, and reduced wildlife habitat.

Article

George Morris and Patrick Saunders

Most people today readily accept that their health and disease are products of personal characteristics such as their age, gender, and genetic inheritance; the choices they make; and, of course, a complex array of factors operating at the level of society. Individuals frequently have little or no control over the cultural, economic, and social influences that shape their lives and their health and well-being. The environment that forms the physical context for their lives is one such influence and comprises the places where people live, learn work, play, and socialize, the air they breathe, and the food and water they consume. Interest in the physical environment as a component of human health goes back many thousands of years and when, around two and a half millennia ago, humans started to write down ideas about health, disease, and their determinants, many of these ideas centered on the physical environment. The modern public health movement came into existence in the 19th century as a response to the dreadful unsanitary conditions endured by the urban poor of the Industrial Revolution. These conditions nurtured disease, dramatically shortening life. Thus, a public health movement that was ultimately to change the health and prosperity of millions of people across the world was launched on an “environmental conceptualization” of health. Yet, although the physical environment, especially in towns and cities, has changed dramatically in the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, so too has our understanding of the relationship between the environment and human health and the importance we attach to it. The decades immediately following World War II were distinguished by declining influence for public health as a discipline. Health and disease were increasingly “individualized”—a trend that served to further diminish interest in the environment, which was no longer seen as an important component in the health concerns of the day. Yet, as the 20th century wore on, a range of factors emerged to r-establish a belief in the environment as a key issue in the health of Western society. These included new toxic and infectious threats acting at the population level but also the renaissance of a “socioecological model” of public health that demanded a much richer and often more subtle understanding of how local surroundings might act to both improve and damage human health and well-being. Yet, just as society has begun to shape a much more sophisticated response to reunite health with place and, with this, shape new policies to address complex contemporary challenges, such as obesity, diminished mental health, and well-being and inequities, a new challenge has emerged. In its simplest terms, human activity now seriously threatens the planetary processes and systems on which humankind depends for health and well-being and, ultimately, survival. Ecological public health—the need to build health and well-being, henceforth on ecological principles—may be seen as the society’s greatest 21st-century imperative. Success will involve nothing less than a fundamental rethink of the interplay between society, the economy, and the environment. Importantly, it will demand an environmental conceptualization of the public health as no less radical than the environmental conceptualization that launched modern public health in the 19th century, only now the challenge presents on a vastly extended temporal and spatial scale.

Article

Framing and dealing with complexity are crucially important in environment and human health science, policy, and practice. Complexity is a key feature of most environment and human health issues, which by definition include aspects of the environment and human health, both of which constitute complex phenomena. The number and range of factors that may play a role in an environment and human health issue are enormous, and the issues have a multitude of characteristics and consequences. Framing this complexity is crucial because it will involve key decisions about what to take into account when addressing environment and human health issues and how to deal with them. This is not merely a technical process of scientific framing, but also a methodological decision-making process with both scientific and societal implications. In general, the benefits and risks related to such issues cannot be generalized or objectified, and will be distributed unevenly, resulting in health and environmental inequalities. Even more generally, framing is crucial because it reflects cultural factors and historical contingencies, perceptions and mindsets, political processes, and associated values and worldviews. Framing is at the core of how we as humans relate to, and deal with, environment and human health, as scientists, policymakers, and practitioners, with models, policies, or actions.

Article

Pierluigi Cocco

The fight against agricultural and household pests accompanies the history of humanity, and a total ban on the use of pesticides seems unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. Currently, about 100,000 different chemicals, inorganic and organic, are currently in the market, grouped according to their function as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fumigants, rodenticides, fertilizers, growth regulators, etc. against specific pests, such as snails or human parasites, or their chemical structure—organochlorines, organophosphates, pyrethroids, carbamates, dithiocarbamates, organotin compounds, phthalimides, phenoxy acids, heterocyclic azole compounds, coumarins, etc. Runoff from agricultural land and rain precipitation and dry deposition from the atmosphere can extend exposure to the general environment through the transport of pesticides to streams and ground-water. Also, the prolonged bio-persistence of organochlorines generates their accumulation in the food chain, and their atmospheric drift toward remote geographical areas is mentioned as the cause of elevated fat contents in Arctic mammals. Current regulation in the developed world and the phasing out of more toxic pesticides have greatly reduced the frequency of acute intoxications, although less stringent regulations in the developing world contribute to a complex pattern of exposure circumstances worldwide. Nonetheless, evidence is growing about long-term health effects following high-level, long-lasting exposure to specific pesticides, including asthma and other allergic diseases, immunotoxicity, endocrine disruption, cancer, and central and peripheral nervous system effects. Major reasons for uncertainty in interpreting epidemiological findings of pesticide effects include the complex pattern of overlapping exposure due to multiple treatments applied to different crops and their frequent changes over time to overcome pest resistance. Further research will have to address specific agrochemicals with well-characterized exposure patterns.

Article

Mental and behavioral disorders account for approximately 7.4% of the global burden of disease, with depression now the world’s leading cause of disability. One in four people in the world will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their life. City planning and design holds much promise for reducing this burden of disease, and for offering solutions that are affordable, accessible and equitable. Increasingly urban green space is recognized as an important social determinant of health, with the potential to protect mental health – for example, by buffering against life stressors - as well as relieving the symptom severity of specific psychiatric disorders. Pathways linking urban green space with mental wellbeing include the ability of natural stimuli – trees, water, light patterns – to promote ‘involuntary attention’ allowing the brain to disengage and recover from cognitive fatigue. This article brings together evidence of the positive effects of urban green space on common mental health problems (i.e. stress, anxiety, depression) together with evidence of its role in the symptom relief of specific psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, attention deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism. Urban green space is a potential force for building mental health: city planners, urban designers, policy makers and public health professionals need to maximize the opportunities in applying green space strategies for both health prevention and in supporting treatment of mental ill health.

Article

Knowledge of the important role that the environment plays in determining human health predates the modern public health era. However, the tendency to see health, disease, and their determinants as attributes of individuals rather than characteristics of communities meant that the role of the environment in human health was seldom accorded sufficient importance during much of the 20th century. Instead, research began to focus on specific risk factors that correlated with diseases of greatest concern, i.e., the non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes. Many of these risk factors (e.g., smoking, alcohol consumption, and diet) were aspects of individual lifestyle and behaviors, freely chosen by the individual. Within this individual-centric framework of human health, the standard economic model for human health became primarily the Grossman model of health and health care demand. In this model, an individual’s health stock may be increased by investing in health (by consuming health services, for example) or decreased by endogenous (age) or exogenous (smoking) individual factors. Within this model, individuals used their available resources, their budget, to purchase goods and services that either increased or decreased their health stock. Grossman’s model provides a consumption-based approach to human health, where individuals purchase goods and services required to improve their individual health in the marketplace. Grossman’s model of health assumes that the goods and services required to optimize good health can be purchased through market-based interactions and that these goods and services are optimally priced—that the value of the goods and services are reflected in their price. In reality, many types of goods and services that are good for human health are not available to purchase, or if they are available they are undervalued in the free market. Across the environmental and health literature, these goods and services are, today, broadly referred to as “ecosystem services for human health.” However, the quasi-public good nature of ecosystem services for human health means that the private market will generate a suboptimal environment for both individual and public health outcomes. In the face of continued austerity and scarce public resources, understanding the role of the environment in human health may help to alleviate future health care demand by decreasing (or increasing) environmental risk (or benefits) associated with health outcomes. However, to take advantage of the role that the environment plays in human health requires a fundamental reorientation of public health policy and spending to include environmental considerations.

Article

The emergence of environment as a security imperative is something that could have been avoided. Early indications showed that if governments did not pay attention to critical environmental issues, these would move up the security agenda. As far back as the Club of Rome 1972 report, Limits to Growth, variables highlighted for policy makers included world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion, all of which impact how we live on this planet. The term environmental security didn’t come into general use until the 2000s. It had its first substantive framing in 1977, with the Lester Brown Worldwatch Paper 14, “Redefining Security.” Brown argued that the traditional view of national security was based on the “assumption that the principal threat to security comes from other nations.” He went on to argue that future security “may now arise less from the relationship of nation to nation and more from the relationship between man to nature.” Of the major documents to come out of the Earth Summit in 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is probably the first time governments have tried to frame environmental security. Principle 2 says: “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national.” In 1994, the UN Development Program defined Human Security into distinct categories, including: • Economic security (assured and adequate basic incomes). • Food security (physical and affordable access to food). • Health security. • Environmental security (access to safe water, clean air and non-degraded land). By the time of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in 2002, water had begun to be identified as a security issue, first at the Rio+5 conference, and as a food security issue at the 1996 FAO Summit. In 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set up a High-Level Panel on “Threats, Challenges, and Change,” to help the UN prevent and remove threats to peace. It started to lay down new concepts on collective security, identifying six clusters for member states to consider. These included economic and social threats, such as poverty, infectious disease, and environmental degradation. By 2007, health was being recognized as a part of the environmental security discourse, with World Health Day celebrating “International Health Security (IHS).” In particular, it looked at emerging diseases, economic stability, international crises, humanitarian emergencies, and chemical, radioactive, and biological terror threats. Environmental and climate changes have a growing impact on health. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified climate security as a key challenge for the 21st century. This was followed up in 2009 by the UCL-Lancet Commission on Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change—linking health and climate change. In the run-up to Rio+20 and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the issue of the climate-food-water-energy nexus, or rather, inter-linkages, between these issues was highlighted. The dialogue on environmental security has moved from a fringe discussion to being central to our political discourse—this is because of the lack of implementation of previous international agreements.

Article

Richard Sharpe, Nicholas Osborne, Cheryl Paterson, Timothy Taylor, Lora Fleming, and George Morris

Despite the overwhelming evidence that living in poor-quality housing and built environments are significant contributors to public health problems, housing issues persist and represent a considerable societal and economic burden worldwide. The complex interaction between multiple behavioral, lifestyle, and environmental factors influencing health throughout the “life-course” (i.e., from childhood to adulthood) in high-income countries has limited the ability to develop more salutogenic housing interventions. The resultant, usually negative, health outcomes depend on many specific housing factors including housing quality and standards, affordability, overcrowding, the type of tenure and property. The immediate outdoor environment also plays an important role in health and wellbeing at the population level, which includes air (indoor and outdoor), noise pollution and the quality of accessible natural environments. These exposures are particularly important for more vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or infirm, and those living in insecure accommodation or in fuel poverty (i.e., being unable to heat the home adequately). Being homeless also is associated with increased risks in a number of health problems. Investigating pathways to protecting health and wellbeing has led to a range of studies examining the potential benefits resulting from accessing more natural environments, more sustainable communities, and housing interventions such as “green construction” techniques. Built environment interventions focusing on the provision of adequate housing designs that incorporate a “life-course” approach, affordable and environmentally sustainable homes, and urban regeneration along with active community engagement, appear capable of improving the overall physical and mental health of residents. While some interventions have resulted in improved public health outcomes in more high-income countries, others have led to a range of unintended consequences that can adversely affect residents’ health and wellbeing. Furthering understanding into four interrelated factors such as housing-specific issues, the immediate environment and housing, vulnerable populations, and natural spaces and sustainable communities can help to inform the development of future interventions.

Article

Valuing the benefit of reduced exposures to environmental health risks requires assessment of the willingness to pay for the risk reduction. Usual measures typically estimate individual local rates of substitution between money and the reduced probability of the adverse health impact. Benefit-cost analyses then aggregate individuals’ willingness to pay to calculate society’s willingness to pay for the health risk reduction benefit. The theoretical basis for this approach is well established and is similar for mortality risks and health outcomes involving morbidity effects. Researchers have used both stated preference methods and revealed preference data that draw on values implicit in economic decisions. Continuing controversies with respect to valuation of environmental health impacts include the treatment of behavioral anomalies, such as the gap between willingness-to-pay and willingness-to-accept values, and the degree to which heterogeneity in values because of personal characteristics such as income and age should influence benefit values. A considerable literature exists on the value of a statistical life (VSL), the local tradeoff between fatality risk and money, which is used to value mortality risk reductions. Many VSL estimates use data from the United States for regulatory analyses of environmental policies, but several other countries have distinct valuation practices. There are empirical estimates of the benefits associated with reducing the risks of many environmental health effects, including cancer, respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal illnesses, and other health consequences that have morbidity effects.

Article

Maria Cristina Fossi and Cristina Panti

A vigorous effort to identify and study sentinel species of marine ecosystem in the world’s oceans has developed over the past 50 years. The One Health concept recognizes that the health of humans is connected to the health of animals and the environment. Species ranging from invertebrate to large marine vertebrates have acted as “sentinels” of the exposure to environmental stressors and health impacts on the environment that may also affect human health. Sentinel species can signal warnings, at different levels, about the potential impacts on a specific ecosystem. These warnings can help manage the abiotic and anthropogenic stressors (e.g., climate change, chemical and microbial pollutants, marine litter) affecting ecosystems, biota, and human health. The effects of exposure to multiple stressors, including pollutants, in the marine environment may be seen at multiple trophic levels of the ecosystem. Attention has focused on the large marine vertebrates, for several reasons. In the past, the use of large marine vertebrates in monitoring and assessing the marine ecosystem has been criticized. The fact that these species are pelagic and highly mobile has led to the suggestion that they are not useful indicators or sentinel species. In recent years, however, an alternative view has emerged: when we have a sufficient understanding of differences in species distribution and behavior in space and time, these species can be extremely valuable sentinels of environmental quality. Knowledge of the status of large vertebrate populations is crucial for understanding the health of the ecosystem and instigating mitigation measures for the conservation of large vertebrates. For example, it is well known that the various cetacean species exhibit different home ranges and occupy different habitats. This knowledge can be used in “hot spot” areas, such as the Mediterranean Basin, where different species can serve as sentinels of marine environmental quality. Organisms that have relatively long life spans (such as cetaceans) allow for the study of chronic diseases, including reproductive alterations, abnormalities in growth and development, and cancer. As apex predators, marine mammals feed at or near the top of the food chain. As the result of biomagnification, the levels of anthropogenic contaminants found in the tissues of top predators and long-living species are typically high. Finally, the application of consistent examination procedures and biochemical, immunological, and microbiological techniques, combined with pathological examination and behavioral analysis, has led to the development of health assessment methods at the individual and population levels in wild marine mammals. With these tools in hand, investigators have begun to explore and understand the relationships between exposures to environmental stressors and a range of disease end points in sentinel species (ranging from invertebrates to marine mammals) as an indicator of ecosystem health and a harbinger of human health and well-being.

Article

Allergenic pollen is produced by the flowers of a number of trees, grasses, and weeds found throughout the world. Human exposure to such pollen grains can exacerbate pollen-related asthma and allergenic conditions such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever). While allergenic pollen comes from three main groups of plants—certain trees, grasses, and weeds—many people are sensitive to pollen from one or a few taxa only. Weather, climate, and environmental conditions have a significant impact on the levels and varieties of pollen grains present in the air. These allergenic conditions significantly reduce the quality of life of affected individuals and have been shown to have a major economic impact. Pollen production depends on both the current meteorological conditions (including day length, temperature, irradiation, precipitation, and wind speed/direction), and the water availability and other environmental and meteorological conditions experienced in the previous year. The climate affects the types of vegetation and taxa that can grow in a particular location through availability of different habitats. Land-use or land management is also crucial, and so this field of study has implications for vegetation management practices and policy. Given the influential effects of weather and climate on pollen, and the significant health impacts globally, the total effect of any future environmental and climatic changes on aeroallergen production and spread will be significant. The overall impact of climate change on pollen production and spread remains highly uncertain, and there is a need for further understanding of pollen-related health impact information. There are a number of ways air quality interacts with the impact of pollen. Further understanding of the risks of co-exposure to both pollen and air pollutants is needed to better inform public health policy. Furthermore, thunderstorms have been linked to asthma epidemics, especially during the grass pollen seasons. It is thought that allergenic pollen plays a role in this “thunderstorm asthma.” To reduce the exposure to, or impact from, pollen grains in the air, a number of adaptation and mitigation options may be adopted. Many of these would need to be done either through policy changes, or at a local or regional level, although some can be done by individuals to minimize their exposure to pollen they are sensitive to. Improved aeroallergen forecast models could be developed to provide detailed taxon-specific, localized information to the public. One challenge will be combining the many different sources of aeroallergen data that are likely to become available in future into numerical forecast systems. Examples of these potential inputs are automated observations of aeroallergens, real-time phenological observations and remote sensing of vegetation, social sensing, DNA analysis of specific aeroallergens, and data from symptom trackers or personal monitors. All of these have the potential to improve the forecasts and information available to the public.

Article

Ann E. Ferris, Richard Garbaccio, Alex Marten, and Ann Wolverton

Concern regarding the economic impacts of environmental regulations has been part of the public dialogue since the beginning of the U.S. EPA. Even as large improvements in environmental quality occurred, government and academia began to examine the potential consequences of regulation for economic growth and productivity. In general, early studies found measurable but not severe effects on the overall national economy. Although price increases due to regulatory requirements outweighed the stimulative effect of investments in pollution abatement, they nearly offset one another. However, these studies also highlighted potentially substantial effects on local labor markets due to the regional and industry concentration of plant closures. More recently, a substantial body of work examined industry-specific effects of environmental regulation on the productivity of pollution-intensive firms most likely to face pollution control costs, as well as on plant location and employment decisions within firms. Most econometric-based studies found relatively small or no effect on sector-specific productivity and employment, though firms were less likely to open plants in locations subject to more stringent regulation compared to other U.S. locations. In contrast, studies that used economy-wide models to explicitly account for sectoral linkages and intertemporal effects found substantial sector-specific effects due to environmental regulation, including in sectors that were not directly regulated. It is also possible to think about the overall impacts of environmental regulation on the economy through the lens of benefit-cost analysis. While this type of approach does not speak to how the costs of regulation are distributed across sectors, it has the advantage of explicitly weighing the benefits of environmental improvements against their costs. If benefits are greater than costs, then overall social welfare is improved. When conducting such exercises, it is important to anticipate the ways in which improvements in environmental quality may either directly improve the productivity of economic factors—such as through the increased productivity of outdoor workers—or change the composition of the economy as firms and households change their behavior. If individuals are healthier, for example, they may choose to reallocate their time between work and leisure. Although introducing a role for pollution in production and household behavior can be challenging, studies that have partially accounted for this interconnection have found substantial impacts of improvements in environmental quality on the overall economy.

Article

Caroline A. Ochieng, Cathryn Tonne, Sotiris Vardoulakis, and Jan Semenza

Household air pollution from use of solid fuels (biomass fuels and coal) is a major problem in low and middle income countries, where 90% of the population relies on these fuels as the primary source of domestic energy. Use of solid fuels has multiple impacts, on individuals and households, and on the local and global environment. For individuals, the impact on health can be considerable, as household air pollution from solid fuel use has been associated with acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and other illnesses. Household-level impacts include the work, time, and high opportunity costs involved in biomass fuel collection and processing. Harvesting and burning biomass fuels affects local environments by contributing to deforestation and outdoor air pollution. At a global level, inefficient burning of solid fuels contributes to climate change. Improved biomass cookstoves have for a long time been considered the most feasible immediate intervention in resource-poor settings. Their ability to reduce exposure to household air pollution to levels that meet health standards is however questionable. In addition, adoption of improved cookstoves has been low, and there is limited evidence on how the barriers to adoption and use can be overcome. However, the issue of household air pollution in low and middle income countries has gained considerable attention in recent years, with a range of international initiatives in place to address it. These initiatives could enable a transition from biomass to cleaner fuels, but such a transition also requires an enabling policy environment, especially at the national level, and new modes of financing technology delivery. More research is also needed to guide policy and interventions, especially on exposure-response relationships with various health outcomes and on how to overcome poverty and other barriers to wide-scale transition from biomass fuels to cleaner forms of energy.

Article

Humans have been exposed to naturally occurring toxic chemicals and materials over the course of their existence as a species. These materials include various metals, the metalloid arsenic, and atmospheric combustion particulates, as well as bacterial, fungal, algal, and plant toxins. They have also consumed plants that contain a host of phytochemicals, many of which are believed to be beneficial, such as plant polyphenols. People are exposed to these various substances from a number of sources. The pathways of exposure include air, water, groundwater, soil (including via plants grown in toxic soils), and various foods, such as vegetables, fruit, fungi, seafood and fish, eggs, wild birds, marine mammals, and farmed animals. An overview of the various health benefits, hazards and risks relating to the risks reveals the very wide variety of chemicals and materials that are present in the natural environment and can interact with human biology, to both its betterment and detriment. The major naturally occurring toxic materials that impact human health include metals, metalloids (e.g., arsenic), and airborne particulates. The Industrial Revolution is a major event that increased ecosystem degradation and the various types and duration of exposure to toxic materials. The explosions in new organic and organometallic products that were and still are produced over the past two centuries have introduced new toxicities and associated pathologies. The prevalence in the environment of harmful particulates from motor-vehicle exhaust emissions, road dust and tire dust, and other combustion processes must also be considered in the broader context of air pollution. Natural products, such as bacterial, fungal, algal, and plant toxins, can also have adverse effects on health. At the same time, plant-derived phytochemicals (i.e., polyphenols, terpenoids, urolithins, and phenolic acids, etc.) also have beneficial and potential beneficial effects, particularly with regard to their anti-inflammatory effects. Because inflammation is associated with most disease processes, phytochemicals that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are of great interest as potential nutraceuticals. These potentially beneficial compounds may help to combat various cancers; autoimmune conditions; neurodegenerative diseases, including dementias; and psychotic conditions, such as depression, and are also essential micronutrients that promote health and well-being. The cellular and molecular mechanisms in humans that phytochemicals modulate, or otherwise interact with, to improve human health are now known. In the early 21st century, some of the current pollution issues are legacy problems from past industrialization, such as mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These POPs include many organochlorine compounds (e.g., polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides, polychlorinated and polybrominated dibenzo-dioxans and -furans), as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitro-PAHs, and others. The toxicity of chemical mixtures is still a largely unknown problem, particularly with regard to possible synergies. The continuing development of new organic chemicals and nanomaterials is an important environmental health issue; and the need for vigilance with respect to their possible health hazards is urgent. Nanomaterials, in particular, pose potential novel problems in the context of their chemical properties; humans have not previously been exposed to these types of materials, which may well be able to exploit gaps in our existing cellular protection mechanisms. Hopefully, future advances in knowledge emerging from combinatorial chemistry, molecular modeling, and predictive quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSARs), will enable improved identification of the potential toxic properties of novel industrial organic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and nanomaterials before they are released into the natural environment, and thus prevent a repetition of past disastrous events.

Article

Lora Fleming, Michael Depledge, Niall McDonough, Mathew White, Sabine Pahl, Melanie Austen, Anders Goksoyr, Helena Solo-Gabriele, and John Stegeman

The interdisciplinary study of oceans and human health is an area of increasing global importance. There is a growing body of evidence that the health of the oceans and that of humans are inextricably linked and that how we interact with and affect our oceans and seas will significantly influence our future on earth. Since the emergence of modern humans, the oceans have served as a source of culture, livelihood, expansion, trade, food, and other resources. However, the rapidly rising global population and the continuing alterations of the coastal environment are placing greater pressure on coastal seas and oceans. Negative human impacts, including pollution (chemical, microbial, material), habitat destruction (e.g., bottom trawling, dredging), and overfishing, affect not only ecosystem health, but also human health. Conversely, there is potential to promote human health and well-being through sustainable interactions with the coasts and oceans, such as the restoration and preservation of coastal and marine ecosystems. The study of oceans and human health is inherently interdisciplinary, bringing together the natural and social sciences as well as diverse stakeholder communities (including fishers, recreational users, private enterprise, and policymakers). Reviewing history and policy with regard to oceans and human health, in addition to known and potential risks and benefits, provides insights into new areas and avenues of global cooperation, with the possibility for collaboratively addressing the local and global challenges of our interactions with the oceans, both now and in the future.

Article

Erin N. Haynes, Lisa McKenzie, Stephanie A. Malin, and John W. Cherrie

Technological advances in directional well drilling and hydraulic fracturing have enabled extraction of oil and gas from once unobtainable geological formations. These unconventional oil and gas extraction (UOGE) techniques have positioned the United States as the fastest-growing oil and gas producer in the world. The onset of UOGE as a viable subsurface energy abstraction technology has also led to the rise of public concern about its potential health impacts on workers and communities, both in the United States and other countries where the technology is being developed. Herein we review in the national and global impact of UOGE from a historical perspective of occupational and public health. Also discussed are the sociological interactions between scientific knowledge, social media, and citizen action groups, which have brought wider attention to the potential public health implications of UOGE.

Article

Wheat is the most widely grown food crop in the world and the dominant staple crop in temperate countries where it contributes between about 20% and 50% of the total energy intake. About 95% of the wheat grown is hexaploid bread wheat, with tetraploid durum wheat being grown in the hot dry Mediterranean climate and very small volumes of ancient species. About 80% of the dry weight of the mature grain is starchy endosperm. This is the major grain storage tissue, which is separated by milling to give white flour, the outer layers and germ together forming the bran. However, white flour and bran differ significantly in their compositions, with white flour being rich in starch (about 80% dry wt) and protein (about 10% dry wt) and the bran rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals. Most of the wheat consumed by humankind is in the form of bread, noodles, pasta, and other processed foods, and the quality for processing is determined by two major characteristics: the grain texture (hardness) and the viscoelastic properties conferred to dough by the gluten proteins. In addition to being a source of energy, wheat also contributes protein and a range of other essential and beneficial components, particularly dietary fiber. However, because most of these components are concentrated in the bran, it is important to increase the consumption of whole grain products or to improve the composition of white flour. Although there is concern among consumers about possible adverse effects of consuming wheat products on health, these are unlikely to affect more than a small proportion of the population, and wheat should form part of a healthy balanced diet for the vast majority.

Article

Agroforestry systems, the planting of perennial trees and/or shrubs with annual agronomic crops or pasture, have been proposed as more environmentally benign, alternative systems for agricultural production in both temperate and tropical regions of the world. Agroforestry provides a number of environmental benefits as confirmed by scientific literature. The four major environmental benefits of agroforestry are (1) climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, (2) biodiversity conservation, (3) soil health enrichment, and (4) air and water quality improvement. In addition to environmental benefits, the economic benefits of multiple crops within agroforestry systems have also generated interest in their adoption by farmers the world over. The major negative impacts come from conversion or degradation of forests following certain traditional practices, which may not fit in the definition of modern agroforestry. Challenges remain for widespread adoption of agroforestry, particularly in the temperate world; however, a new resurgence of interest in this land-use practice among small-scale farmers has shed light on a path toward its possible success. Past evidence clearly indicates that agroforestry, as part of a multifunctional working landscape, can offer not only economic return, but also a number of ecosystem services and environmental benefits for a sustainable society.

Article

Luisa T. Molina, Tong Zhu, Wei Wan, and Bhola R. Gurjar

Megacities (metropolitan areas with populations over 10 million) and large urban centers present a major challenge for the global environment. Transportation, industrial activities, and energy demand have increased in megacities due to population growth and unsustainable urban development, leading to increasing levels of air pollution that subject the residents to the health risks associated with harmful pollutants, and impose heavy economic and social costs. Although much progress has been made in reducing air pollution in developed and some developing world megacities, there are many remaining challenges in achieving cleaner and breathable air for their residents. As centers of economic growth, scientific advancement, and technology innovation, however, these urban settings also offer unique opportunities to capitalize on the multiple benefits that can be achieved by optimizing energy use, reducing atmospheric pollution, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, and bringing many social benefits. Realizing such benefits will, however, require strong and wide-ranging institutional cooperation, public awareness, and multi-stakeholder involvement. This is especially critical as the phenomenon of urbanization continues in virtually all countries of the world, and more megacities will be added to the world, with the majority of them located in developing countries. The air quality and emission mitigation strategies of eight megacities—Mexico City, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai—are presented as examples of the environmental challenges experienced by large urban centers. While these megacities share common problems of air pollution due to the rapid growth in population and urbanization, each city has its own unique circumstances—geographical location, meteorology, sources of emissions, human and financial resources, and institutional capacity—to address them. Nevertheless, the need for an integrated multidisciplinary approach to air quality management is the same. Mexico City’s air pollution problem was considered among the worst in the world in the 1980s due to rapid population growth, uncontrolled urban development, and energy consumption. After three decades of implementing successive comprehensive air quality management programs that combined regulatory actions with technological change and were based on scientific, technical, social, and political considerations, Mexico City has made significant progress in improving its air quality; however, ozone and particulate matter are still at levels above the respective Mexican air quality standards. Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu are microcosms of megacities in the People’s Republic of China, with rapid socioeconomic development, expanding urbanization, and swift industrialization since the era of reform and opening up began in the late 1970s, leading to severe air pollution. In 2013, the Chinese government issued the Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control. Through scientific research and regional coordinated air pollution control actions implemented by the Chinese government authority, the concentration of atmospheric pollutants in several major cities has decreased substantially. About 20% of total megacities’ populations in the world reside in Indian megacities; the population is projected to increase, with Delhi becoming the largest megacity by 2030. The increased demands of energy and transportation, as well as other sources such as biomass burning, have led to severe air pollution. The air quality trends for some pollutants have reduced as a result of emissions control measures implemented by the Indian government; however, the level of particulate matter is still higher than the national standards and is one of the leading causes of premature deaths. The examples of the eight cities illustrate that although most air pollution problems are caused by local or regional sources of emissions, air pollutants are transported from state to state and across international borders; therefore, international coordination and collaboration should be strongly encouraged. Based on the available technical-scientific information, the regulations, standards, and policies for the reduction of polluting emissions can be formulated and implemented, which combined with adequate surveillance, enforcement, and compliance, would lead to progressive air quality improvement that benefits the population and the environment. The experience and the lessons learned from the eight megacities can be valuable for other large urban centers confronting similar air pollution challenges.

Article

Towns and cities generally exhibit higher temperatures than rural areas for a number of reasons, including the effect that urban materials have on the natural balance of incoming and outgoing energy at the surface level, the shape and geometry of buildings, and the impact of anthropogenic heating. This localized heating means that towns and cities are often described as urban heat islands (UHIs). Urbanized areas modify local temperatures, but also other meteorological variables such as wind speed and direction and rainfall patterns. The magnitude of the UHI for a given town or city tends to scale with the size of population, although smaller towns of just thousands of inhabitants can have an appreciable UHI effect. The UHI “intensity” (the difference in temperature between a city center and a rural reference point outside the city) is on the order of a few degrees Celsius on average, but can peak at as much as 10°C in larger cities, given the right conditions. UHIs tend to be enhanced during heatwaves, when there is lots of sunshine and a lack of wind to provide ventilation and disperse the warm air. The UHI is most pronounced at night, when rural areas tend to be cooler than cities and urban materials radiate the energy they have stored during the day into the local atmosphere. As well as affecting local weather patterns and interacting with local air pollution, the UHI can directly affect health through heat exposure, which can exacerbate minor illnesses, affect occupational performance, or increase the risk of hospitalization and even death. Urban populations can face serious risks to health during heatwaves whereby the heat associated with the UHI contributes additional warming. Heat-related health risks are likely to increase in future against a background of climate change and increasing urbanization throughout much of the world. However, there are ways to reduce urban temperatures and avoid some of the health impacts of the UHI through behavioral changes, modification of buildings, or by urban scale interventions. It is important to understand the physical properties of the UHI and its impact on health to evaluate the potential for interventions to reduce heat-related impacts.