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Brownfield or previously used land often has levels of contamination that make it unsuitable for development. It also has known risks for the physical health of people and the environment. In some cases it may not even be highly contaminated but because it requires remediation, little is done with it. But what effects does brownfield have on people’s health outside of people coming into close physical contact with environmental contaminants? Does the mere presence of brownfield lead to poorer health outcomes?
Many communities live near brownfield spaces (there are 62,000 acres of brownfield land in England alone), which may have serious consequences for their health according to a new study from Regeneration Brownfield Land Using Sustainable Technologies (ROBUST) project based at IHRR and in collaboration with the Wolfson Research Institute. Research led by Professor Clare Bambra, Dr Karen Johnson and Dr Steve Robertson finds that people who live close to brownfields have worse health compared to those that do not, or only live near small amounts of brownfield.
Professor Clare Bambra, lead author of the study said: “Our study shows that local authorities and central government need to prioritise the remediation and regeneration of brownfield land to protect the health of communities.”
The River Eden is one of the most beautiful rivers in the UK, if not all of Europe. It is host to a wide variety of different plant and animal species and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Many communities live on or near the River Eden or one of its tributaries. Human impact on the landscape often has unintended or unforeseen consequences on ecosystems, including rivers. Agriculture, primarily through the use of fertilisers, changes the ecology of river systems which affects all plant and wildlife as well as humans.
Over time, pollutants accumulate in the River Eden through farming practices, something that has been of concern to local communities and scientists alike. In order to monitor and develop ways for decreasing diffuse pollution from agriculture, researchers from Durham, Lancaster, Newcastle, the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, Askham Bryan College (Newton Rigg) and the Eden Rivers Trust, have come together with communities, including farmers, to develop new ways to monitor and improve river water quality. The project known as the Eden Demonstration Test Catchment, or EdenDTC for short, has installed 10 river monitoring stations to monitor the water quality of the River Eden. The EdenDTC has made live, real-time data about the River Eden freely available online. Read more
Terry McClure, who is studying for an MA in Risk, Health and Public Policy, explains how some insurance companies are using computer modelling and information about people’s lifestyle choices found on the internet to evaluate health-related risks. This could largely affect whether some people are able to receive life insurance coverage in the future. This form of ‘predictive modelling’ could also disproportionately affect poor people who may be perceived as a riskier clientele and denied coverage.
Download Podcast Right-click ‘Save Link As’
Insurers Test Data Profiles to Identify Risky Clients. Wall Street Journal
Life insurance: Life in the fast lane. The Actuary
A recent study co-authored by Dr Mylène Riva and Prof Sarah Curtis, Director of Frontier Knowledge in IHRR, looks at the health inequalities experienced by communities who live in former coalfields, when compared with other communities in England. While some coalfield communities are doing better than others, possibly demonstrating individual resilience, people living in coalfield communities are more prone to limiting long-term illnesses such as asthma or chronic arthritis. The importance of this research is that it reveals how socioeconomic conditions impact the physical health of communities and in this case the impact can be quite large. According to the study, people living in coalfield communities are 27 percent more likely to report a limiting long-term illness compared to other communities in England. Read more
The project Regenerating Brownfield Land Using Sustainable Technologies (ROBUST) in IHRR is researching efficient, environmentally sustainable methods to restore land that was previously used for industry that may have high or low concentrations of contaminants in the soil.
In Part 1 of the ROBUST podcast series available on the project’s website, Dr Steve Robertson, an associate researcher on ROBUST, explains what is brownfield land and how it can be redeveloped for future use.
On this blog we have explored research on arsenic contaminated drinking water in Bangladesh in an interview with Dr Manzurul Hassan who was a visiting researcher in IHRR last year, and is a colleague of Prof Peter Atkins based in the Dept of Geography in Durham University who also works on the arsenic problem. Arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh is without a doubt one of the worst environmental problems in the world today affecting the health of millions of people in Bangladesh and other countries in Southeast Asia.
While most of the global news media were focused on the threat to air space from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, the threat of ash particles to human health is also of major concern, especially for those living near the volcano. Fortunately, a recent study led by Dr Claire Horwell, a volcanologist at IHRR and Director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, revealed that the ash does not have the potential to cause long-term respiratory health problems for Icelanders. Read the rest of this entry »
The monsoons in northern Pakistan are unprecedented. Rain fall is expected to continue into next week. The Indus River, Pakistan’s longest river, is expected to increase tenfold at 1 million cubic feet per second. One of the growing problems is that not only have people’s homes been wiped out, but also crucial health infrastructure needed for medical care. As waterborne diseases spread, emergency medical care is imperative. Sources of drinking water have been contaminated by flood waters carrying decomposing animal and human bodies. Recent statistics from northwest Pakistan on loss of housing and other damages caused by the flooding are of great concern: “55% of communities reported that injured and sick community members are not receiving any medical treatment”.
We live in a world vulnerable to social panic and catastrophe. Since the information we depend on for understanding how health risks could impact our daily lives is so integrated with the rest of the world (primarily through the internet) the question of reliable knowledge has become a difficult one. Two leading researchers part of the Tipping Points project at IHRR, Dr Alex Bentley and Dr Paul Ormerod, revealed that awareness of health pandemics spreads socially rather than through people feeling a genuine need to find out about the disease. Read more
Dr Manzurul Hassan is geographer and faculty member of Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh. He did his MSc and PhD in the Department of Geography at Durham University. After completing his PhD in 2003, Dr Hassan did a number of research works on groundwater arsenic poisoning. Apart from this, he has conducted some consultancies in the development field with different national and international organisations and donor agencies. He is now actively involved in writing-up his book Arsenic in Groundwater: Poisoning and Risk Assessment with Professor Peter Atkins (IHRR/Geography) to be published by the CRC Press (USA). An important update on part of this research is now available.
How did groundwater arsenic contamination become a health hazard in Bangladesh?
There were waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea in Bangladesh due to the drinking of untreated water several decades ago. During the 1970s, UNICEF and some international donor agencies advised the Government of Bangladesh to tap groundwater for drinking purposes. Drinking this groundwater actually reduces the level of diarrhoea, but at the same time it is increasing the risk of arsenic poisoning, leading to arsenicosis, hyperpigmentation, gangrene, and finally cancer. The latency time of cancer symptoms is 15-30 years depending on arsenic content in the water and the period of ingestion. Local poor people are not actually aware of arsenic poisoning. They still think that tube well water is good quality and that it is much better than the surface water, whether it is contaminated with arsenic or not.
What are the social hazards associated with arsenic poisoning?
Some social problems have emerged other than health risk from arsenic poisoning. There is a very common tendency to ostracise people who have visible arsenic symptoms on their body, particularly different types of skin lesions or gangrene. People with arsenic poisoning can’t even go outside of their own home and they can’t participate in any social gathering. There are even problems within families causing parents to separate or the infected to leave home. They are isolated from society; they find it difficult to get a job and children cannot go to school. These are the kinds of social problems in Bangladesh within arsenic-affected communities. Read more