Recognising the benefits of a good quality environment to health and wellbeing- Inaugural EPA-HSE conference on Environment, Health and Wellbeing

Date released: Nov 30 2016, 9:55 AM

The EPA and HSE are today jointly hosting an Environment & Health Conference in Dublin.  Entitled Our Environment, Our Health, Our Wellbeing, the conference aims to promote a greater awareness of the impact of environmental quality on human health.

The environment and health are inextricably linked. The Government’s ‘Healthy Ireland’ strategy and the EPA’s Strategic Plan for 2016 – 2020: Our Environment Our Wellbeing recognise that a clean and well-protected environment is a key building block to a healthy Ireland.  For example, there is now a growing body of scientific evidence that links exposure to nature to benefits in coping with mental stress and fatigue. Getting out in nature can bring real benefits to mental well-being. 

Speaking at the conference, Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA said,

“Ireland’s environment is a fundamental and high-quality national asset that provides a strong foundation for healthy and contented lives. Our most basic needs are clean air, safe drinking water, safe shelter and healthy food. The quality of each one of these ‘needs’ is directly influenced by the quality of the environment.  It follows that preventing damage to the environment arising from human activities also helps to protect our health and wellbeing. Health and wellbeing stresses associated with urbanisation, air quality, water pollution, climate change, new materials and diffuse chemicals are matters we, together with the HSE, want to build the evidence base for, advocate for, and address.” 

Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe National Director of Health & Wellbeing, HSE said,

“Many of the key determinants of health and disease — as well as the solutions — lie outside the direct control of the health sector, in sectors concerned with environment, water and sanitation, agriculture, education, employment, urban and rural livelihoods, trade, international travel, energy and housing. Addressing the underlying determinants of health is key to ensuring sustainable development and sustained health improvements in the long term.  In bringing together environmental and healthcare professionals today we hope to foster collaboration to realise the benefits of a good environment for health and wellbeing’

The EPA’s recent State of Environment report highlighted Environment and Health and Wellbeing as one of seven key environmental actions for Ireland. Protecting the environment as a valuable asset benefits our health and the wider economy; equally, protecting our people from pollution safeguards human health and contributes to the nation’s health and wellbeing. This action is reflected in the Government’s vision for a Healthy Ireland which includes protecting the public from threats to health and wellbeing. 

In conclusion, Laura Burke emphasised the importance of providing online information for the public about health and environment,

“We in the EPA recognise our important role in providing online, up-to-date and accessible information on the environment to stakeholders. We are working hard to make environmental information interesting and relevant to the public, to stimulate increased engagement with the environment and to mobilise sustainable behaviours. We are also keen to encourage and support active participation by people and their communities in working to both protect and improve their local environment.” 

ENDS

Further information:
EPA Press Office - Niamh Hatchell/Emily Williamson, 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie
HSE Press office - 01 635 2840 or Sheila Caulfield on 087 637 5131 or press@hse.ie

Notes to Editor

1. State of Environment Report 2016:

This EPA’s recent State of Environment report finds that the overall quality of Ireland’s natural environment is ‘good’- but a highly qualified good, and that the State and all citizens need to act quickly to protect what we now have.

Developing a much stronger appreciation of the link between a clean and well protected environment and our health and well-being was identified in the State of Environment report as an overarching systemic issue for Ireland. 

The report highlighted a number of threats to human health and wellbeing, as well as to the wider environment.   These include air quality, drinking water quality and nuisance, be it noise, odour or waste-related issues.  On poor air quality, for example, it is now accepted that even low levels of air pollution, notably from particulates (soot and dust), can have negative health impacts.  Key challenges in tackling air quality issues include traffic in our larger towns and cities and a too high a dependence on coal, turf and wood for home heating, particularly in small Irish towns. Exposure to radon – a naturally occurring radioactive gas – also poses a serious risk to people’s health.  In terms of drinking water quality, major investments are needed to protect consumers from pollution and health risks.  The report states that there are still an unacceptable number of public drinking water supplies on long-term Boil Water Notices and on the EPA’s Remedial Action List. 

2. Green spaces/blue spaces/green and blue prescriptions:

“Green spaces” include parks, forests and farmlands. “Blue spaces” include rivers, canals, lakes and coastlines.  The concept of “green and blue prescriptions” is now being explored in Ireland by the HSE as a tool to improve community health and well-being. In addition the EPA and the HSE are co-funding research in the area of Eco-system benefits for health.

3. EPA-led initiatives on public engagement and information:

  • Ireland’s Environment’- an award winning national portal for environmental information 
  • My Local Environment’- a site that makes technical environmental data sets available in an easy to use way, for members of the public on their local environment
  • Live Green’ – a one stop shop for people to get information and advice from a variety of public bodies about how to live more sustainable lives.
  • The See it Say it!’ app makes it very easy for anyone to report a pollution incident anywhere in the country. 
  • Catchments.ie gives people easy access to information about their local water catchment and how they can get involved in its protection.  
  • The EPA’s Air Quality Index for Health which was developed in partnership with the HSE and Met Eireann, presents real-time web accessible information on air quality that permits vulnerable persons and their health care professions, make informed decisions on potential environmental exposure.
  • Green Healthcare programme:  An EPA and HSE collaboration which looks at resource efficiency practices in acute and primary care hospitals.  This programme, which is delivered by the Clean Technology Centre in Cork, has demonstrated significant results in terms of resource efficiency potential across water, energy and food (potential €9M savings). 

4. Healthy Ireland is a national framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Ireland. Its main focus is on prevention and keeping people healthier for longer.

Healthy Ireland’s goals are to:

  • Increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life
  • Reduce health inequalities
  • Protect the public from threats to health and wellbeing
  • Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their part in achieving a healthy Ireland

Further information is available here and here.

5. Partnerships – Local Community Development Committees (LCDCs)

The building of partnerships is highlighted in the HI Framework as Healthy Ireland is bringing together people and organisations from across the country into a national movement to address the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to poor physical and mental health and to address health inequalities. A strong partnership is established with the Department of the Housing, Planning, Community and Local Development and the Local Community Development Committees (LCDCs).  A representative from the HSE is a member of almost all of the 31 LCDCs. All of the recently published Local Community Development Plans (LECPs) included health elements for the improvement of health and wellbeing of their communities. This approach reflects a shared commitment in Government and throughout communities to support people to be as healthy and well as they can.

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