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Prioritise all forms of pollution as health hazards, policy makers urged

It’s not just air pollution that’s bad for health, says CMO: time to take it all seriously

Caroline White

Friday, 02 March 2018

Policy makers need to get a grip on all forms of pollution—not just air pollution about which much has been written already, insists England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies in her ninth annual report* published today.

They are all bad for health, and all need to be taken seriously now, she says.

She refers to the health of children who are affected by noise pollution from roads near their schools; our houses that are washed with light pollution every night; exposure to chemicals in the almost invisible dust in our houses.

“There are no aspects of our life that do not have the potential to be impacted by pollution," she says.

“[Yet] tackling pollution (in all its forms) has not been foremost in the minds of health policy makers in recent years,” she writes in the foreword to the report.

This has been left to public health professionals of all disciplines, and the wider public health workforce, to guard the public from the health impacts of pollution, she says.

She said she was minded to address the issue, “[B]ecause I believe it is time for policy makers to take seriously the threat to health posed by pollution, and therefore to understand that addressing pollution is disease prevention.”

No one questions that acute exposure to a toxic substance will cause ill-health, however, she says: “Lesser known, and understood, is the relationship between longer-term, lower level exposure to pollutants.”

“We already know there is a link in some instances: think of the opportunities to improve health that may be at our fingertips if we can better integrate socio-demographic, health and environmental data – using this to better understand these threats.”

Everyone stands to benefit from such an approach, she says: “I would like to see all forms of pollution at the forefront of professional and public attention. I hope this report helps to inform the conversation.”

Among the raft of recommendations that she makes for the NHS, Local Authorities, and government agencies, she suggests that Public Health England convenes a Programme Board to coordinate government action to reduce the contribution of pollution to non-communicable diseases.

This board should include representation from Environment Agency and should be supported by the Government Expert Scientific Advisory Committees. The government should also publish a chemicals strategy.

*Annual Report of the chief medical officer 2017, Health Impacts of All Pollution- what do we know? Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2018

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