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Estimate of burden of disease and external costs caused by various environmental factors

Issue 07-08-2012In a new MIRA report, particulates have arisen as the environmental factor most damaging to health. In a comparison of the impact of various environmental factors on health, particulates account for around three quarters of the environmental burden of disease and external costs.

Particulates: most health effects and greatest cost

The MIRA research report sheds light on the health effects of various environmental factors: benzene, carbon monoxide, dioxins in food, electromagnetic fields, particulates, ozone, formaldehyde, noise, heat, lead, nickel, arsenic, cadmium, tobacco smoke in the environment, radon, mould and damp, and UV radiation. The burden of disease is expressed in disability adjusted life years (DALYs). These disability adjusted life years indicate how many years a person loses due to illness and/or early death as a result of an environmental factor. The calculation of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) or external costs makes it possible to compare and/or add up health effects with each other.

The impact on illness due to various environmental pollutants together amounts to 108 863 DALYs for the Flemish population. Calculated for each inhabitant of Flanders, that is 5 disability adjusted life days per year or a bit more than one disability adjusted life year throughout life due to a lifelong exposure to current levels of exposure to the calculated set of environmental factors. It is important here that these are average values. For certain sensitive persons (e.g. asthma patients) the real impact will be greater, and it will be lower for others. This environmental burden of disease is around 8 % of the total burden of disease in Flanders. The costs run to around 3.6 % of the GDP of Flanders. These values are calculated on the basis of the most recent exposure data.

For both environmental burden of disease and costs it seems that particulates are the most significant pollutant. They are responsible for around three quarters of the total number of DALYs. Noise and tobacco smoke in the environment are the second and third most significant environmental factors in the calculation of environmental burden of disease, but for external costs, tobacco smoke and ozone in the environment take second and third place.

The investigation was carried out on behalf of Flanders Environment Report (MIRA) by the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO).

Figure: Central estimate of the number of DALYs per year in Flanders caused by various environmental factors

Figure Central estimate of the number of DALYs per year in Flanders caused by various environmental factors

Read the English summary of the Dutch report ‘Estimate of burden of disease and external costs caused by various environmental factors in Flanders’

Study commissioned by MIRA, the Environment Reporting Unit
Research report MIRA/2012/06 - VITO/2012/MRG/R/187

researchers: Jurgen Buekers, Rudi Torfs, Felix Deutsch, Wouter Lefebvre, VITO met medewerking van Myriam Bossuyt, VMM

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