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by Génon K. Jensen, HEAL founder and Executive Director 

For over 20 years I have watched scientific evidence amass at an alarming speed on the negative impacts that a polluted environment can bring to our health. Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution all impact our health. As the 2024 European elections approach, it is time policymakers take strong and consistent action to address these issues for their constituents’ benefit.  

Currently the burden of pollution in Europe is weighing too heavily on us, with 20% of early death and disease due to pollution. A nasty cocktail of substances in our food, water, air and soil impacts us even at low levels. Pollution contributes to heart- and lung disease, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, behavioral challenges and the disruption of the hormone-, immune- and reproductive systems – with some of these impacts even carried onto future generations through reduced fertility, trough pregnancy and breastfeeding.  The good news is that the EU has tremendous power in preventing this ill health and disease through the policies it adopts. 

Heatwaves, floods and droughts will only increase as the climate warms. Heat alone led to 61,000 people dying in the summer of 2022 in Europe. Biodiversity loss deprives us of a functional ecosystem, nutritional variety and future medicines, and in addition human encroachment on nature may increase the risk of cross-over of infectious diseases from animals to humans.  

No one is safe from these impacts, with some more at risk than others; pregnant women, the elderly, those already sick or facing health inequalities and children.  

Even though achieving an environment free of harmful chemicals, with clean air, water- and food, might not be an easy task, there are clear actions European Union leaders can take to work towards this in the next mandate 2024-2029. To this end the Health and Environment Alliance, which represents over 80 member organisations working on the nexus of health and environment in Europe, has strong recommendations for voters and the future Parliament. 

A straightforward first step is to ensure taxpayers money is not used to finance any activities that harm health or the environment. The financing and use of fossil fuels should be phased out promptly and replaced with sustainable alternatives.  

Health should be central to mitigation and climate adaptation. Policymaking needs to have a level of ambition that will protect those most vulnerable and consider that the health of those economically more disadvantaged is also disproportionally affected by pollution. 

The toll of air pollution and chemicals on health and the economy is unacceptable. Air pollution is one of the top risk factors for chronic disease in Europe leading to billions in health care costs. Car-free mobility is a no-brainer: walking and cycling support health, help lessen air pollution, and tackle climate change. Policymakers have all the tools needed to incentivise active mobility, enhance public transportation and introduce zero- and low emission zones.  

The regulation of chemicals warrants urgent improvements in EU law, to ensure harmful chemicals like PFAS, pesticides and endocrine disruptors are not present in our water, food and products. Hazardous chemicals contribute far too much to the quickly rising numbers of cancer cases obesity, diabetes, infertility and neurodevelopmental disorders. Often safer alternatives are already available, and better regulation can help steer industry towards these- and new innovations. The health costs, and clean-up and remediation from hazardous chemicals are astronomically high in Europe – money that surely could find better use. Prioritizing the revision of the EU Chemicals Law REACH and measures to reduce exposure to pesticides should be absolute priorities for the next Parliament. 

We can achieve a non-toxic, decarbonised, climate resilient and sustainable way of life. The European elections are a key moment for voters and elected officials to ensure we are working towards a prosperous Europe, where current and future generations can enjoy long and healthy lives.   

See the HEAL Prescription for healthy people on a healthy planet 2024-2029 here (materials available in in English, German, French, Dutch, Spanish and Polish).  

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