Current Environmental Health Challenges: Part I - Exposures and Research Trends

Current Environmental Health Challenges: Part I - Exposures and Research Trends

Paraskevi Papadopoulou (Deree – The American College of Greece, Greece), Anastasia Misseyanni (Deree – The American College of Greece, Greece) and Christina Marouli (Deree – The American College of Greece, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1241-8.ch001

Abstract

This is the first of two overview chapters of important contemporary environmental health challenges. The exciting developments in the environmental health fields are approached in an interdisciplinary manner covering cutting-edge scientific developments and research. In the first chapter, environmental exposures to a variety of toxins, diseases, and stressors that challenge the individual and affect public health are examined. The handling, storage, big data management related to medical and health-informatics are discussed. Issues such as single gene polymorphisms, gene expression, transcriptomics, epigenetics, metabolomics, exposure to carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, physical hazards, airborne particulates, quality of food and water, toxin metabolism, bioinformatics, and exposome analysis are considered. Important recommendations and solutions are provided emphasizing the collaboration between researchers/scientists and the community.
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Introduction

Environmental concerns in contemporary societies continue to be high. They are becoming more challenging today because they are determined by multiple interrelated factors leading to a cascade of effects, with multiple impacts on human health and other environmental components. Scientists, researchers and people from all around the world have become aware of various environmental health challenges and the increased need to improve health and healthcare in an efficient and effective manner. Many improvements and technological innovations have been implemented in relation to environmental issues (e.g., increased use of renewable energy sources, cleaner vehicles, air pollution abatement and improvements in sanitation and water quality, biodegradable plastics, etc.); however, environmental problems persist and some have become worse. Climate change is surely a major concern both for the environment and for human health. More recently, in May 2019, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) Robert Watson stated, The health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide” (IBPES, 2019). More than 450 scientists and diplomats after a three-year study reveal in their United Nations (UN) Global Assessment Report that 1 million species are at risk of extinction. This type of ecosystem assessment goes much further by looking not just at an inventory of species, but at the web of interactions between biodiversity, climate and human wellbeing. According to the report, the current global response is insufficient; ‘Transformative changes’ are needed to restore and protect nature. Most scientists are in agreement with Robert Watson’s statement, “We have lost time. We must act now.” For more information, see the reports and publications of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, 2019) and of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UN, 2019).

Although we have experienced some significant health achievements in the 20th century, the quality of life and the goal of having “healthy people” continue to be challenging, especially as environmental problems continue to be significant. There is an increasing need to effectively connect environmental factors and human health challenges today. Environmental health aims, among other things, to prevent disease and to-promote health supportive environments.

This chapter (Part I) presents some major contemporary environmental health hazards/risks and their impacts. As these challenges are many and complex, there is a general understanding that, unless people decide in a collaborative and interdisciplinary way to commit themselves to address them, the future of humanity is at risk. The authors of this chapter aim to add a positive contribution toward raising further awareness of contemporary environmental exposures/hazards, risks and health impacts and also offer some insights for environmental and health policy development.

This chapter’s (Part I) aims and scope are to:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Epigenetics: The study of heritable phenotype changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration in the DNA sequence itself.

Personalized Medicine: Is a therapeutic approach involving the use of an individual's genetic and epigenetic information where the medical decisions, practices, interventions and/or products are being tailored to the individual’s drug therapy scheme and/or preventive care.

Sustainability: Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance, all in harmony and enhancement both for current and future generations potential that meet the human needs and aspirations without compromising the survival of other species.

Next Generation Sequencing: Massively parallel or deep sequencing of DNA technology allowing one to determine in a single experiment the sequence of a DNA molecule(s) with total size significantly larger than 1million base pairs (1millionbp or 1Mb).

Environmental Risks: The probability or chance of suffering an actual or potential threat, danger or hazard of adverse effects on living organisms and environment.

Metabolomics: Refers to systematic identification and quantification of small molecules and their interactions within a biological system, commonly known as metabolites, within cells, biofluids, tissues or organisms.

Health-Informatics: Is the practice of acquiring, studying, designing, developing, applying and managing health and medical data in conjunction with health information technology systems to help improve healthcare.

Exposome: The totality of environmental exposures from conception onward, assessing the multitude of human exposures across the life.

Bioinformatics: Bioinformatics uses computation to understand, organize, analyze, and interpret biological data.

Environmental Hazard: Is a substance, a state or an event, which has the potential to threaten the health of people and the natural environment.

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