Clean air, safe drinking water, unspoiled nature – we need an environment in which we can live a healthy life and feel at ease. Both natural environmental occurrences, such as ultraviolet radiation, and anthropogenic environmental pollution, such as contaminants in the air, soil, water or in food, harmful chemicals and noise, can have detrimental effects on our health.
Environment-related health protection is a key area of action in Germany's environmental policy. The aim of the German government is to identify environmental impacts that adversely affect human health and to reduce such impacts or, where possible, prevent them.
Guided by human well-being
"Every individual is entitled to an environment conducive to the highest attainable level of health and well-being". The German government upholds this principle established at the First Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in 1989 through its activities aimed at protecting human health from harmful environmental impacts. Germany has already significantly improved environment-related health protection. This is true in particular for air pollution control, drinking water and protection against harmful chemicals.
In order to protect the public against the impacts of climate change that are harmful to human health, the German government is not only a pioneer in international climate policies, it also pursues a strategy for health-related adaptation to climate change at national level. In December 2008, the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change was adopted with human health as a key aspect. The implementation of the adaptation strategy is one of the main priorities of the German government.
Through the Action Programme on Environment and Health, the German government disseminates information about environment-related health risks, and supports research and the protection of children and young people against harmful environmental impacts. The message of the Action Programme is that environment and health go hand in hand – environmental protection is sustainable preventive healthcare.
The German government also advocates greater environment-related health protection at European level, for instance in the field of chemicals safety. One German initiative, for example, aims to ban health risks to consumers arising from carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in a wide range of products such as toys and tools throughout the EU.
Environmental protection also means studying and monitoring the correlations between environment and health in order to identify previously unknown stress factors. Health-related environmental monitoring is an important tool of the German government. This tool includes human biomonitoring, which is used to study which substances occurring in the environment are absorbed by the human organism, the German Environmental Surveys on Health (GerES) and the Federal Environmental Specimen Bank (UPB).
Environmental justice is a rather new field of action in Germany which addresses and seeks solutions to the socially unequal distribution of environmental burdens and environment-related health problems and their correlation to people’s social status.
As we spend most of our days indoors, for example in apartments, offices or vehicles, we have to make sure that indoor air is clean and healthy. New furniture, wall paint and flooring can be the cause of pollutant spread indoors. To prevent pollutant loads in indoor air, consumers should choose products with the Blue Angel label or the EU Ecolabel (EU Flower). To help keep indoor air clean for themselves and others, people should ventilate rooms several times a day for 5 to 10 minutes by opening windows wide and avoid chemicals, room scents and smoking. Proper ventilation and heating also help prevent the formation of mould in homes.