Health impact assessment

Unit responsible: 

To assess the effects of environment on human health

We investigate the impact of environmental exposure on human health. We explicitly focus on chemical, physical and biological non-infectious aspects such as air pollution, biodiversity, ionizing radiation, urbanization or urban heat.

Our research group includes experts in biological, bio-engineering, epidemiological and geographical sciences, which enables us to follow the “One Health” and “EcoHealth” approach. Our study methods rely on 1) the coupling of existing health and environmental databases and 2) the collection of new data by means of questionnaires, interviews and/or collection of human samples. The outcomes of our research permit to inform decision makers and lay the foundation for evidence-based actions towards public health and the management of the environment.

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Our research questions include: What are the adverse health effects related to long-term exposure to low concentrations of indoor and outdoor air pollution? To what extent does vulnerability of a population (e.g. underlying medical conditions) affect the impact of heat and air pollution on health? What are the spatial and temporal relationships between green space characteristics, biodiversity and health? Do increased aeroallergen (allergens in air) levels lead to more asthma hospitalizations? What are the relationships between urbanization and mental health? Is there an increased risk of cancer for persons living in the vicinity of nuclear sites? Building on previous experience such as the acrylonitrile disaster following the train derailment in Wetteren (2013), we also continue to support the authorities in crisis situations due to environmental accidents.

To answer these questions, we couple our own datasets with datasets provided by several Federal Public Services, the InterMutualistic Agency, the Interregional Environment Agency, the Royal Meteorological Institute, the Aerobiology team of Sciensano, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), universities and international institutions such as the World Health Organisation. In partnership with other Sciensano units, we also implement field studies that use measuring devices, questionnaires and biomonitoring methods (i.e. the analysis of molecules from body fluids or tissues, that reflect environmental exposures, effects or vulnerability) to collect detailed exposure and health data at the individual level. In this framework, our team notably develops projects that make use of mobile techniques and citizen science (mobile applications, GPS, personal passive samplers, etc.). Within all research topics, special attention is paid to socioeconomic factors which may have an impact on the relationships between environment and health, as well as to vulnerable groups, such as children, the elderly and persons with pre-existing disorders.

Our research is funded by Sciensano, Europe, the Belgian state or regional organizations. We share our conclusions through reports, scientific publications, presentations at congresses and direct feedback to study participants.

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