Environmental Exposure & Health Initiative (EEHI)

Programme overview

The Environmental Exposure & Health Initiative aimed to provide important new knowledge on the interconnections and pathways between environmental pollutants and interacting stressors, exposure routes and health effects in humans, including variations in susceptibility and the definition of health risks. This integrated understanding is vital for the development of evidence-based policies and practices that will reduce the adverse health effects of contaminated water, land, food or air.

This was a joint initiative between NERC, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Department of Health (DH), the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) and Defra. The initiative was launched under the umbrella of the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership and was designed to contribute to the partnership's strategic objective on protecting human, plant and animal health from diseases, pests and environmental hazards

Background & objectives

Increasing population growth and urbanisation is leading to augmented pressures on ecosystems services and human health, including adverse health effects of contaminated water, land, food or air. This is caused by a variety of pollutants such as endocrine disruptors, drugs, pesticides, or particulates, often combined with other environmental and dietary stressors such as increased temperature and a diet low in anti-oxidants. For example, air pollution is estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of 7-8 months, with estimated equivalent health costs of up to £20 billion each year.

In order to develop better and more tailored evidence-based policies there is a need for more accurate and sophisticated measurement and quantification of environmental exposures linked to human health outcomes. This will then provide the essential building blocks for the definition of health risks, the generation of predictive models for cost benefit analyses, and the evaluation of regulation.

While there have been significant recent advances in the determination of the genetic impact on common diseases, the interactions with environmental pollutants and stressors are poorly understood and rely critically on accurate exposure assessment. The exploitation of recent technological advances for instance in sensor and 'omics' technologies for personal monitoring and the development of biomarkers of exposure and early effects provide an unprecedented opportunity to address gene-environment interactions and health related-exposure response relationships as part of an integrated programme linking multiple environmental pollutants and stressors with human health effects. Connecting environmental measures to large data sets in cohorts and populations creates another opportunity.

The vision for this initiative was the establishment of truly interdisciplinary teams of researchers, conducting high quality state-of-the-art innovative research into the relationship between environmental pollutants (in water, air, soil or food), other interacting stressors and human health, with the intention of advancing the development of evidence based policies and practices. The programme sought to integrate sophistication in exposure measurement with research addressing evidence, mechanisms and scale of human health effects, and how these are influenced by environmental, behavioural and socioeconomic factors.

The initiative aimed to stimulate creativity and provide important new insights that break the mould of current thinking. By capitalising on novel technologies and methodologies and existing infrastructure and capabilities the programme endeavoured to drive step changes in areas of environmental health research where the UK can take an international lead.

Reports & key findings

The following documents and links are related to or give more information about this programme.

Report of the workshop on Environmental Exposure & Health (PDF, 766KB) - jointly sponsored by NERC and MRC

EEHI/ESEI Communication Plan 2012-2016 (PDF, 248KB)