Environmental Systems Social Systems and Human Health

Session 10

ES/SO352 Sustainability - Session 10

S10: Environmental Systems, Social Systems and Human Health

Required readings




  • Learn that there are many linkages between ecosystem services and human health
  • Learn which diseases are more related to changes in the environment
  • Learn what is a Safe dose
  • Learn what is the "Precautionary principle" and when it's wise to apply it.
  • Learn cases in which the legal thresholds where not enough to preserve our health, as shown with new studies which demostrated serius effects to animal health.
  • See examples of red tides, eutrophication events and GMO feeding over more than 90 days, and their potential effect on animal health.

1. Categories of Ecosystem services and linking with Human Well-being

Source: World Health Organization (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-Being Health Synthesis http://www.who.int/globalchange/ecosystems/ecosys.pdf

2. Ecosystem changes and human health

Adapted from World Health Organization (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-Being Health Synthesis

3. Factors contributing (re-)emergence of infectious diseases

  1. intensified human encroachment on natural environments
  2. reductions in biodiversity (including natural predators of vector organisms)
  3. particular livestock and poultry production methods
  4. increased long-distance trade in wild animal species (including as food)
  5. habitat alterations that lead to changes in the number of vector breeding sites or in reservoir host distribution
  6. niche invasions or interspecies host transfers
  7. human-induced genetic changes of disease vectors or pathogens (such as mosquito resistance to pesticides or emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria)
  8. environmental contamination by infectious disease agents.

4. Diseases with the largest environmental contribution

  • DALY= The environmental disease burden is measured in Disability-Adjusted Life Years, a weighted measure of death, illness and disability.

Indicative Values For Environmental Attributable Fractions, By Specific Environmental Risk Factor And Disease Risk

2006. WHO. Preventing disease through healthy environments. http://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/publications/preventingdisease/en/

6. Environmental disease burden by who subregion (2002)

7. Disease burden in DALYS per 1000 people

8. Main Diseases Contributing to the Environmental Burden of Disease among Children 0-14 y.o.

From Quantitative risk assessment of the effects of climate change on selected causes of death, 2030s and 2050s. WHO. 2014. Available online at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/134014/1/9789241507691_eng.pdf

10. Mapping environmental problems according to management and reversibility

Source: 2007. UNEP. Global Environmental Outlook http://www.unep.org/geo/geo4.asp

11. Indoor pollution

Source: Frost & Sullivan http://www.frost.com/prod/servlet/cio/43046538

12. On the road

13. On the job

14. On the job

15. On your body

16. On your food

Source: 2006. WWF. Chain of Contamination. The Food Link. http://www.wwf.org.uk/filelibrary/pdf/contamination.pdf

17. Study on 9 adults from USA

Source: Environmental Working Group. 2003. Body Burden: The Pollution in People. http://www.trwnews.org/Documents/Dioxin/BBreport_final.pdf

18. Study on 9 adults from USA

Source: Environmental Working Group. 2003. Body Burden: The Pollution in People. http://www.trwnews.org/Documents/Dioxin/BBreport_final.pdf

19. Study on 9 adults from USA

Source: Environmental Working Group. 2003. Body Burden: The Pollution in People. http://www.trwnews.org/Documents/Dioxin/BBreport_final.pdf

20. Study on 9 adults from USA

Source: Environmental Working Group. 2003. Body Burden: The Pollution in People. http://www.trwnews.org/Documents/Dioxin/BBreport_final.pdf

21. The Precautionary Principle (PP)

  • The precautionary principle to risk management states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.
  • One of the primary foundations of the precautionary principle, and globally accepted definitions, results from the work of the Rio Conference, or "Earth Summit" in 1992. Principle #15 of the Rio Declaration notes:
    "In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."

    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

22. Videos

22.1. Scraplife - e-Waste in Pakistan (Robert Knoth / Greenpeace)

Thousands of tons of e-waste – such as discarded PCs, mobile phones and TVs - are dumped in Africa and Asia every year. Our research shows that some of this waste is exported to Pakistan. In the Karachi district of Lyari, hundreds of workers, including teenage children, earn their livelihoods by dismantling the electronic scrap and extracting valuable components such as copper to sell. This is a insight into the personal cost of e-waste. Manufactures can help ensure the problem of toxic e-waste is solved

22.2. Unintended GMO Health Risks (1 sheet summary). Institute For Responsible Technology 2008

pdf: http://responsibletechnology.org/docs/140.pdf
Web: http://www.responsibletechnology.org/GMFree/AboutGMFoods/HealthRisksBrochure/index.cfm

  • The health information is from the book "Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risk of Genetically Engineered Foods", by Jeffrey M. Smith. (available at IES Barcelona Library)

Deliberate release into the environment of GMOs for any other purposes than placing on the market (experimental releases)
European comission - Joint Research Centre. Institute for health and consumer protection.

22.3. Paper from Seralini et al 2012-2014 - #GMfeedtrial

  • “Safe” levels of GM Maize and Roundup can cause tumours, multiple organ damage and premature death in laboratory rats, finds first peer-reviewed lifetime feeding trial. First lifetime animal feed trial finds long-term consumption of GM maize and Roundup can cause serious health problems.
  • Paper: http://research.sustainablefoodtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Final-Paper.pdf . Retracted, by Journal editors, but republished by authors elsewhere:
    • Republished study: Séralini, G.-E., et al. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environmental Sciences Europe (2014), 26:14 doi:10.1186/s12302-014-0014-5

Prevent heat effects on citizens health. Example in Rotterdam (NL)

  • "URBES film: Rotterdam - the transition to urban resilience" (6')
    • If current trends continue, by 2050 70% of the world's population will live in cities and knowing that cities will grow both in number and surface, it is time to recognize the city as a natural ecosystem. In order to meet human needs now and in the future, nature-based and innovative solutions are essential for a sustainable future for cities all over the planet.
  • Question after the video:
    • Why did they decide to increase the green areas in their city, in relation to their citizen health?

22.4. Underwater video of low dissolved oxygen event in Hood Canal (Puget Sound, USA)

    • Effects of eutrophication on coastal environments, like Puget Sound, linked to anoxic events in deeper coastal water.

22.5. Red tides and effects on human health

"Impact: When Red Tide And Human Health Combine." Emily Hall and Barbara Kirkpatrick (Mote Marine Laboratory and Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, FL). This video clip was produced by students (Rachael Hopkins, Sarah Kambara, and Adam Worley) taking the Ecology of Water class at Ringling College of Art and Design, taught by Dr. Emily Hall and Ms. Anamari Boyes, scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory, as well as adjunct professors at Ringling College.

23. More information


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