NITROPOL-BE - Impacts of nitrogen deposition in the natural environment on pollen allergy and respiratory infection outcomes in Belgium

Last updated on 15-12-2021 by Hanne Reyners
January 15, 2021
April 15, 2025

In short

Pollen are a major health problem, given that they can induce allergies. Due to environmental and lifestyle changes we notice an increase of allergy prevalence towards these aeroallergens. Sciensano investigates the role of environmental nitrogen deposition and changes in:

  • plant community composition and productivity on airborne pollen emissions
  • pollen potency of natural environments
  • allergic disease in Belgium.

Project summary

Allergic disorders are associated with an important burden of disease because of their high prevalence and often life-long morbidity impact. Therefore, they are a major public health problem. The prevalence of allergies to aeroallergens is increasing due to various interactions between changes in the environment, including air pollution and climate warming, and lifestyle. One of the possible, yet underexplored, additional drivers of increasing aeroallergen and allergy prevalence is nitrogen deposition. Excessive environmental nitrogen enrichment through fossil fuel combustion and intensive agriculture is altering: 

  • plant and pollen distributions and abundances
  • the timing
  • duration 
  • intensity of pollen seasons and potentially the allergenic properties of pollen grains. 

These combined changes are expected to have multiple impacts on prevalence and severity of allergic diseases. 

NITROPOL-BE’s main objective is to understand how nitrogen deposition affects pollen allergy burden in Belgium, adjusting for potential confounding by air pollution and climate. 

First, we examine effects of nitrogen enrichment and induced plant community shifts on pollen abundance, species composition and pollen potency by setting up a monitoring scheme in natural environments across a nation-wide nitrogen enrichment gradient. 

Second, we aim to test the hypothesis that nitrogen enrichment induces increased potency of airborne pollen through quantifying pollen allergens and clinically testing allergen potency of pollen of allergenic grass and 3 species collected in natural environments and from plants subjected to experimental nitrogen enrichment. 

Finally, we aim to explore the burden of allergic disease attributable to nitrogen deposition and to evaluate health care costs and benefits under a range of nitrogen deposition scenarios and policy interventions through a disability-adjusted life year (DALY) approach. 

NITROPOL-BE engages a novel multidisciplinary team of scientists, biodiversity conservationists, policy makers and citizens (allergy patients) in Belgium. It aims to provide the scientific basis and evidences to support regional nitrogen deposition reduction and environmental policies as well as national health policies.

Associated Health Topics

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