The Health and Environment Network and its achievements
Janna G Koppe
Arno C Gutleb
Peter van den Hazel
NILU - Norwegian Institute for Air Research
In the HENVINET project, the four SCALE themes were taken up again, incorporating new insight on the importance of epigenetic changes, taking place already immediately after conception, caused by environmental factors and determining later functioning. This insight has changed our way of thinking, from the more thematic approach used in SCALE and PINCHE to the study of changes of DNA under the influence of endocrine and developmental disruptors. A separate new important issue, potential toxicity of nanomaterials and nanoparticles involving new and challenging pathways of toxicity, was included in the project at the mid-term.
Environmental health is a rapidly developing field of
great societal importance. New insights show that
environmental influences, already in the early beginning of
human life, determine health conditions later in life.
The Health and Environment Network (HENVINET;
2006-2010) aimed to establish an integrated network to
connect experts, policymakers and stakeholders
addressing the environmental, social, political, climate and
xenobiotic influences on human health.
The project started against the background of two
foregoing EU initiatives that were addressing the problems of
environment and health in children. The first was the
European Strategy for Environment and Health, jointly
prepared by four Directorate-Generals (DG Environment,
DG RTD, DG Health and Consumers and the Joint
Research Centre). The strategy was launched as the
SCALE initiative (Science, Children, Awareness,
Legislation and Evaluation) in 2003. Together with the following
European Environment and Health Action Program
2004-2010, it aimed to bring the fields of environment
and health closer to each other and develop
recommendations for research and policy actions within four
priority themes: childhood respiratory diseases, asthma and
allergies, neurodevelopmental disorders, childhood
cancer, and disruption of the endocrine system.
The second initiative PINCHE (2003-2005) (Policy
Interpretation Network on Childrens Health and
Environment) reviewed these four themes in relation to the
aspects of exposure and health effects on children,
discussing several compounds including dioxins, PCBs, heavy
metals (mercury, lead and cadmium), and pesticides, with
the aim to formulate priorities in the political field.
Why this supplement
This supplement presents 18 papers that cover the
methods used and work done in the project. They describe the
different ways how multi-disciplinary work was carried
out in the different parts of the project, the results that
were achieved, offer a theoretical view on decision-making
complexity, and discuss our experience with social
networking in a professional context. The largest space is
devoted to case studies that expand expert elicitation
through (1) the development of a causal diagram to
visualise the links between environmental changes and their
consequences on health, and (2) a format on how to carry
out expert workshop on policy interpretation, resulting in
policy briefs. Other work addresses further issues in
complex decision-making: synthesis of research results in fields
where decision-making will be required in a near future,
translation of knowledge using decision support tools, and
dialogue with decision makers where the starting point is
a vision of health and environment target for the future.
Space is also devoted to the description of how the
consortium dealt with the inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral
communication issues, internally in the project, and in
interactions with external experts and other stakeholders.
The insights offered by social scientific reflection on how
to deal with complexity in environmental health were
essential to the progress of this work.
Inter-disciplinary approaches and the need to engage
with societal and political issues are crucial parts of todays
research and scientific work. In this supplement, we want
to share our experiences and results with professionals in
medicine, epidemiology, toxicology and social sciences,
and we hope also to awaken interest of students,
paramedical people and others involved in addressing health and
environment problems. Our work indicates that in the
future, the priority of the Council of the EU in the field of
environment and health should be oriented to the
endocrine (i.e. developmental) disruptors and nanomaterials,
with the aim of prevention or repair of genomic and
nongenomic damage or other new effects. The way to address
these issues requires collaboration of many disciplines.
We have illustrated some of the difficulties in such
interdisciplinary work, and suggested how to overcome them,
hoping that these experiences will be useful to the whole
health and environment community.
HENVINET was a coordination action, financed by the European Commission
Directorate General for Research and Technological Development (DG RTD)
within the 6th Framework Program for Research of the EU, contract no
Special thanks are due to Ms Sonja Grossberndt. She has managed the
submission and review process, and with her patience and organizing skills
has brought this supplement to be a reality.
This article has been published as part of Environmental Health Volume 11
Supplement 1, 2012: Approaching complexities in health and environment.
The full contents of the supplement are available online at http://www.
There are no competing interests.