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Research and innovation

Environment and health

EU policy supported by research and innovation initiatives, projects, results and publications relating to environment and health.

What the Commission does

Human health depends on the quality of our environment. Therefore disruptive transformations of healthy and resilient ecosystems pose a threat to human health and wellbeing.

Due to public concern and the need to protect citizens' health from impacts of environmental degradation, the European Union has over the past decades established an extensive framework of thematic programmes, strategic objectives and regulatory actions that are related to environment and health.

Know how your environment affects your health (Infographic)
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The delivery of significant contributions towards a number of the Commission's 2019-2024 Priorities, environment and health research and innovation is framed by several wider strategies and policy initiatives within a rich EU policy context, such as:

Implementation of EU supported environment and health research delivers research results and innovation in various domains. This includes the generation of harmonised data for risk assessment, advancement of technologies, contribution towards informed decision-making and production of knowledge applicable in the academia, the health sector, pharmaceutical industry, policy-making, and public health by protecting citizens' health and well-being.

Clustering of projects funded under the same call topic is a strong tool to increase synergies, avoid overlaps and boost the impact of Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe projects.

In recent years, clusters of projects were formed under several of the environment and health research areas. These clusters foster inter-project collaborations and coordinated communication and dissemination of the projects’ results to the policy sector and to society.

Research and innovation supporting the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability

Partnership for the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals (PARC)

The European Partnership for the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals (PARC) was launched in May 2022. The Horizon Europe (Programme Cofund Actions) cofunds PARC with €200 million (2022-2029), out of a total budget of €400 million. Itbrings together ministries and national public health and risk assessment agencies, as well as research organisations and academia, the European Chemical Agency, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Environment Agency. PARC involves 200 members (beneficiaries, affiliated entities and associated partners) from 27 countries (22 EU Member States, 3 Associated Countries, as well as Switzerland and the UK).

PARC aims to establish a research and innovation hub of excellence to support the EU and national chemical risk assessment and management with new data, knowledge, methods, networks and skills to address current and emerging chemical safety challenges. With the goal of contributing to implementing the EU’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability towards a Toxic-free Environment, PARC strives towards the fundamental priority - to protect human health and the environment better. It builds upon previous accomplishments, such as those of HBM4EU (below).

European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU)

HBM4EU was a European Joint Programme co-funded by Horizon 2020 providing €50 million out of a total budget of €74 million (2017-2022). HBM4EU developed a European programme for monitoring the exposure of European citizens to chemicals and understanding the potential impact of such exposures on human health. Furthermore, HBM4EU has served as a research network builder that led to the establishment of PARC.

HBM4EU data generated are FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) and are accessible via the European Commission’s IPCheM data portal.

The output of the programme is EU-wide evidence to support sound policy-making for chemical regulations in Europe. The results produced, such as guidelines for various aspects of human biomonitoring, together with policy briefs, are openly available.

Research in support of animal-free approaches to chemical safety (EU-TOXRISK and the ASPIS cluster)

The European Commission supports the development and application of animal-free approaches to advance chemical safety assessment. In 2016, the project EU-TOXRISK started, with the focus on improving the efficiency of predictive toxicological testing. It received close to €28 million in EU funding. By its end (2021), the project delivered nearly 200 scientific publications that contributed to validation of testing/ assessment strategies and guidelines for the universal application of animal-free testing concepts. As a result, the provision of more robust toxicological predictions will improve safety of chemicals for European citizens.

Building on EU-TOXRISK, three projects were launched in 2021 (RISK-HUNT3RPrecisionToxONTOX – €60 million EU funding) to progress the development, validation and translation of animal-free alternative methods. The projects have formed a Joint Collaboration Cluster (ASPIS) to optimise impact and maximise synergies to improve the safety assessment of chemicals without the use of animal testing. The cluster is expected to continue its activities until 2026.

European Cluster to Improve Identification of Endocrine Disruptors (EURION)

Endocrine disruptors are chemical substances that alter the functioning of the hormonal system. In January 2019, eight Horizon 2020 projects on novel testing and screening methods for endocrine disruptors were launched.

They will run until 2023 and receive approximately €49 million in funding from the EU. The eight projects (ATHENAEDCMETENDpoiNTsERGOFREIAGOLIATHOBERONSCREENED) have formed the EURION cluster, advised by a common international advisory board for regulatory matters, and are collaborating with the Commission’s Joint Research Centre to promote the validation of new methods developed. The cluster has published a policy brief in which recommendations on how to translate the knowledge from advancing endocrine disruptor research into actions needed to manage their risks appropriately are delivered.

The outcomes of the projects will feed into the Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Programme of the OECD.

Research and innovation supporting urban health

European Urban Health Cluster

Urban health refers to the wellbeing and health of people who live in cities. It focuses on the causal link between common chronic health conditions and the urban environment.

Research and innovation activities on urban health will build upon the results of the INHERIT and BlueHealth projects, among others. As there is a need to strengthen health aspects in urban agendas, the final Horizon 2020 Health Work Programme included the topic "Innovative actions for improving urban health and wellbeing - addressing environment, climate and socioeconomic factors" .

Six projects (ENLIGHTENmeURBANOMERECETASWELLBASEDeMOTIONAL CitiesHEART) have resulted from this call, receiving a total of €30 million EU funding (2021-2026). They have formed a network (the European Urban Health Cluster) to enhance collaboration and promote the importance of considering health and well-being in urban-related strategies, such as promoting physical and/or mental health, or reducing health inequalities – for a better urban living in urban areas of the EU. This cluster is providing scientific support, among others, to the Urban Agenda for the EU and Horizon Europe Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission.

Research and innovation supporting the Zero Pollution Action Plan

Ambition of the EU Zero Pollution establishes a new paradigm for the setting of the environment and health research. Among its targets for 2030, it aims to improve air, water and soil quality and to reduce transport noise, biodiversity impact and waste generation.

European Human Exposome Network (EHEN)

The human exposome is an area of research that explores how exposure to environmental factors (pollution, diet, lifestyle, socioeconomic factors, work, environment, infections etc.) affects our health and wellbeing throughout life, starting from conception and pregnancy onwards.

Research on the human exposome will facilitate a better and more precise understanding of the causes of many common diseases and ultimately improve disease prevention and enable better health promotion.

The European Human Exposome Network (2020-2024) is the world’s largest network of projects studying the impact of environmental exposure on human health. It combines nine projects (ATHLETEEPHOREQUAL-LIFEEXIMIOUSEXPANSEHEAPHEDIMEDLONGITOOLSREMEDIA) that will receive over €105 million in funding from Horizon 2020, running for five years from January 2020 until December 2024. The outputs from the Cluster’s activities, including an ‘Exposome Toolbox’, which is expected to enable the development of solid, cost-effective preventive actions and policies are available here.

European Cluster on Health Impacts of Micro- and Nanoplastics (CUSP)

One of the priorities of the last calls of Horizon 2020 was to support some of the research aspects identified in the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy and other relevant policies.

Several calls for proposals were launched, including a specific topic for the health area ‘Micro- and nano-plastics in our environment: Understanding exposures and impacts on human health’.

Five projects (POLYRISKAURORAIMPTOXPLASTICHEALPlasticsFatE – 2021-2025), for a total of €30 million EU funding, have been funded. They started in April 2021 and have formed the European Cluster on Health Impacts of Micro- and Nano-plastics (CUSP). The cooperation between the projects within the CUSP cluster is expected to continue until 2025. An overview of the objectives and the organisation of the CUSP cluster is available here, and the latest news about the activities of CUSP have been recently published in CUSP’s second newsletter.

The portfolio of projects from the Horizon 2020 Green Deal call

Under Horizon 2020, research Calls for Proposals to support the European Green Deal (full budget €1 billion in funding) were launched in 2020. This call covered several areas of the European Green Deal, each with a separate set of topics.

For the ‘Zero-Pollution, Toxic free Environment’ area, two topics were published:

  1.  "Innovative, systemic zero-pollution solutions to protect health, environment and natural resources from persistent and mobile chemicals" 
  2.  "Fostering regulatory science to address combined exposures to industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals: from science to evidence-based policies" 

As a result from the first topic, three projects - PROMISCES, SCENARIOS and ZeroPM - were selected and are supported by the EU with €40 million in funding. From the second topic, three projects - ALTERNATIVE ,LIFESAVER, PANORAMIX - were selected and are supported by the EU with funding of €20 million.

All six projects started in 2021 and will continue for several years. The projects will synergise and enhance efforts in areas related to policy, dissemination and communication, and technical aspects.

Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda

HERA coordination action

HERA was a coordination and support action (2019-2022), funded by Horizon 2020, including 24 participating institutions.

The project's overall aim was to identify priorities for the environment, climate and health research in the EU for 2020-2030. The final version of the EU research and innovation agenda is now available. It focuses notably on how to advance multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral understanding in the context of environment and health research and policies.

20 years of EU research in environment and health

Detailed information, including results, are available on all environment and health-related projects funded by the EU in the Fifth (1998-2002)Sixth (2002-2006), and the Seventh Framework Programmes for Research (2007–2013; vol.1 and vol.2) as well as in Horizon 2020 and Euratom.