Environmental Cancer in Europe: How Should We React?

According to a report from the European Environment Agency published on 28 June, exposure to pollution would be the cause of 10% of cancers in Europe.  This pollution includes air pollution, second-hand smoke, radon, UV radiation, asbestos, as well as many other substances that have the reputation of being dangerous.

Which importance for environmental cancer in Europe?

Each year cancer represents 3 million new patients and 1.3 million deaths in the European Union.  According to the EEA, out of these 1.3 million, 250,000 would be caused by environmental cancer including over 20,000 young people.

On a global scale, despite Europe representing 10% of the population, it reports almost 23% of new cases of cancer and 20% of deaths related to cancer.  According to the studies carried out to date, cancer would also be the main cause of occupational deaths in the European Union.

It ought to be noted that according to the European Commission, these estimations would however be limited due to knowledge deficiencies and uncertainties.  It is therefore likely that these numbers are underestimated.  The European Commission indeed considers that “unless we take decisive action now, cancer cases are set to increase by 24% by 2035, making it the leading cause of death in the EU”.

In Europe, cancer is the most common type of noncommunicable disease and the second most common cause of death after circulatory diseases.  In concrete terms, this means that almost all Europeans are likely to be affected by cancer in one way or another, whether it is themselves, their relatives or acquaintances.

Furthermore, the fact that several cancers have latency periods means that today’s pollution will potentially be the cause of future cancers.

In addition to this health burden, there is also an economic burden: in 2018, for example, cancer would have cost 178 billion Euros.

Percentage of premature cancer deaths attributable to environmental risks in Europe in 2019

Percentage of premature cancer deaths attributable to environmental risks in Europe in 2019

What precisely are these risks?

Environmental risks that contribute to the development of cancer can be divided into six categories:

  • Air pollution: both indoor and outdoor air pollution are thought to cause lung cancer and other types of cancer.
  • Radon: exposure to radon inside buildings would be a major cause of lung cancer.
  • UV radiation: excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation would be a major cause of skin cancer, including malignant melanoma.
  • Chemicals: many chemicals are known to cause cancer in various organs, including contaminants in water, soil and air.
  • Passive smoking: exposure to passive smoking is identified as a cancer risk even for people who have never smoked themselves.
  • Asbestos: asbestos is recognised as a major cause of mesothelioma and lung cancer.

How can these risks be avoided?

According to the EEA, there are effective and inexpensive ways to reduce the risk of environmental and occupational cancers: simply reducing exposure to pollution, including through behavioural changes. The European Commission considers that 40% of cancers could be avoided through the implementation of strategies that would prevent the disease, save lives and reduce suffering.

Too many cancer cases would indeed have an underlying environmental cause that it would be possible to protect oneself from by limiting pollution and exposure to harmful substances, which would be beneficial for both humans and the environment.  A reduction of these risks should therefore be directly correlated to a decrease in cancer rates.

Europe’s role

Many directives are constantly being implemented by the EU as part of the “zero pollution” action plan in relation to the reduction of environmental cancers.  The main initiatives taken by Europe in this respect are listed below:

  • Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: a political commitment to turn the tide against cancer and another steppingstone towards a strong European Union Health and a more secure, better prepared and more resilient EU. The plan is expected to receive 4 billion Euros in funding.  The proposed measures include a reduction in environmental pollution by complying with the World Health Organisation guidelines on air quality, as well as exposure to carcinogens and harmful radiation.
  • The EU’s Cancer Mission: a mission to save more than 3 million lives by 2030.
  • The European Code Against Cancer: A European Commission initiative listing 12 ways to reduce one’ s risk of developing cancer, notably including second-hand smoke, radon and potential carcinogens at workplaces.
  • The roadmap on carcinogens: on 25 May 2016 a convention aiming at implementing strategies to raise awareness regarding the risks resulting from exposure to carcinogens at workplaces was signed by six European organisations. This convention was then renewed in November 2019 and signed by new European organisations.

During a conference of the German Presidency entitled “Preventing work-related cancer”, a new strategy 2020-2024 was then presented with four goals:

  • creating awareness in companies and employees regarding the risks of exposure to carcinogens and the need to carry out preventative actions in the whole of Europe.
  • providing help to prevent exposure to carcinogens in workplaces and to reduce their effects.
  • mobilising stakeholders and increasing the involvement of the parties concerned, in order to multiply the efforts throughout Europe.
  • targeting innovation to bridge the gap between research results and the needs of companies.

Although there are still many uncertainties and a growing need for access to data, the European Union is actively working on the implementation of various measures and prevention strategies.  It will now be important for companies to follow these developments closely in order not to risk being sanctioned by this new context.

Sylvie Gallage-Alwis

Nancy Forster

Top Ways To Reduce Harmful And Toxic Wastes In The Planet

Every day, we produce tons of waste that can be harmful to the environment. This waste includes everything from leftover food and packaging to toxic chemicals and manufacturing by-products. If not managed properly, this waste can pollute our air, water, and soil, and endanger plant and animal life.

There are many ways we can reduce the amount of harmful waste we produce. By making simple changes in our daily routines, we can help protect the planet and its inhabitants.

Here are some of the top ways to reduce harmful and toxic wastes:

1. Sustainable packaging

One of the top ways to reduce harmful and toxic wastes on the planet is to use sustainable packaging. Sustainable packaging is made from renewable, recyclable, or compostable materials. This type of packaging is designed to reduce the environmental impact of packaging waste.

Sustainable packaging is a key part of reducing the amount of harmful and toxic waste on the planet. By using sustainable packaging, we can help to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and incinerators. In addition, sustainable packaging can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding the need for virgin materials.

There are many different types of sustainable packaging available on the market today. Some examples include: 

  • Recycled paperboard: Recycled paperboard is made from recycled paper. It is a sustainable alternative to virgin paperboard. 
  • Biodegradable plastics: Biodegradable plastics are made from renewable resources, such as corn starch or plant oils. These plastics will degrade over time, making them a more sustainable option than traditional plastics. 
  • Glass: Glass is a sustainable packaging option because it can be infinitely recycled. 
  • Aluminum: Aluminum can be recycled over and over again, making it a very sustainable packaging option. 

When choosing sustainable packaging, it is important to consider the entire life cycle of the product. This includes the materials used to make the packaging, the way the packaging is produced, how the packaging is used, and how the packaging is disposed of. By considering the entire life cycle of the product, we can make more informed choices about which sustainable packaging options are best for the environment.

2. Composting

When it comes to reducing the harmful and toxic wastes in our planet, composting is one of the top ways to go. Composting is the decomposition of organic material by bacteria, fungi, and other organisms. This process breaks down these materials into simpler substances that can be used as a natural fertiliser for plants. Not only does this reduce the amount of waste going into our landfills, but it also helps to improve the quality of the soil. Some compostable packaging companies consider composting as a more energy-efficient and cost-effective approach to conserving nature than recycling. It reduces the need for specialised trash bins, truck deliveries to recycling facilities, and fuel consumption from the recycling process.

There are many benefits to composting, both for the environment and for your own health. For instance, composting can help to:

  • Reduce methane emissions from landfills
  • Improve soil quality
  • Conserve water
  • Reduce the need for chemical fertilisers
  • Provide a natural source of nutrients for plants
  • Help to control pests and diseases.

If you’re looking for a top way to reduce the harmful and toxic wastes on our planet, composting is definitely one of the best options. Not only will it help to improve the quality of the soil, but it can also provide a number of other benefits as well. So, what are you waiting for? Start composting today!

3. Recycling

One of the best ways to reduce the amount of harmful and toxic wastes on the planet is by recycling them. Recycling is a process where waste materials are turned into new products. This helps to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfill sites, and it also reduces the need for new resources to be used in the production of new products.

There are many benefits to recycling. It helps to save energy, reduces pollution, and conserves resources. It also creates jobs in the recycling industry, and it helps to reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfill sites each year.

4. Reduce packaging

As we know, waste materials are one of the main causes of pollution. It has been estimated that every year, humans produce 1.3 billion tons of solid waste. Out of this staggering amount, a large portion is packaging materials. In the United States alone, it is estimated that packaging accounts for 30% of all waste. This is a huge amount, considering that there are other types of waste that should be given attention to as well.

One way to help reduce the amount of harmful and toxic wastes on the planet is to reduce packaging. We can do this by using less packaging materials or by recycling them. If we can recycle packaging materials, we can reduce the number of new materials that need to be produced. This will also help save our natural resources.

Whenever possible, try to reduce the amount of packaging you use. This can be as simple as bringing your own reusable bags to the store or choosing products with minimal packaging. You can also look for ways to reuse packaging materials, such as using newspapers as packing material when shipping items. By doing this, we can help reduce the waste that ends up in landfills and incinerators.

5. Buy in bulk

Purchasing items in bulk can help to reduce packaging waste. When you buy in bulk, you often have the option to bring your own containers to fill up, which eliminates the need for single-use packaging. Just make sure you have a plan for using all of the product before it goes bad.

6. Avoid Toxic Products

Toxic products can leach harmful chemicals into the environment, polluting our air, water, and soil. Whenever possible, choose nontoxic alternatives to conventional products. This includes everything from cleaning supplies to personal care items.

7. Donate or sell unused items

Instead of throwing away unused or unwanted items, consider donating them or selling them second-hand. This keeps usable items out of landfills and helps others in need. When donating, be sure to choose a reputable charity that will put your donation to good use.

8. Educate others

One of the best ways to reduce waste is to educate others about the importance of doing so. Talk to your friends and family about the ways they can reduce waste in their own lives. You can also get involved in community efforts to reduce waste, such as organising a neighbourhood recycling program.

Making even small changes in our daily routines can help to reduce the amount of harmful waste we produce. By working together, we can make a big difference in protecting our planet.