Past Conferences

International Society for Environmental Epidemiology 11th Annual Conference

The 11th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology was held in Athens, Greece, September 5-8, 1999. This was the fourth joint annual meeting with the International Society for Exposure Analysis. The program included 254 oral and 264 poster presentations and there were more than 500 participants. Among the participants, 34% came from North America, 41% from countries of the European Union, 14% from other European countries (mainly Central--Eastern Europe) and 11% from the rest of the world.

In planning the conference, a conscious effort was made to attract participants who would not be able to attend a conference in Northern Europe or North America (for example, those from countries in Central---Eastern Europe or the Middle East). To achieve this, about 100 scholarships were given. The conference organizers were able to provide these scholarships and invite distinguished speakers through generous sponsorships from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Hellenic Ministries of Environment and Culture, the European Commission, the Health Effects Institute and the World Health Organization.

The theme of the conference, "Exposure Assessment, Environmental Epidemiology and Decision Making: Closer Interactions for Better Protection of Public Health," emphasized the link between science and policy. The two keynote presentations focused on this topic. Harvard University Professor of Epidemiology Dimitrios Trichopoulos spoke about using epidemiological results for setting standards and regulating environmental exposures, and Dr. Robert Maynard, an M.D. in the United Kingdom Department of Health, addressed policy development for air pollution management through the five recent decades, with emphasis on the unique history of the London smog.

Several symposia also addressed the interface between policy and research, including the symposium on "Environmental Health Policy Development: the Pros and Cons of Single Issue vs. Integrated Approaches;" the symposium on "Population, Consumption and Technology: Upstream Determinants for the Public Health Agenda;" and a session addressing the recent problem of food contamination by dioxin in Belgium. Another related symposium organized by the World Health Organization European Center for Environment and Health addressed criteria by which epidemiological evidence can be accepted for environmental health impact assessments. All conference abstracts were analyzed with respect to components related to policy development and decision making and the results of this analysis were presented at the closing session.

Concurrent sessions featured presentations of papers of high scientific quality. In total there were 20 symposia, 41 concurrent oral sessions and one pre-conference symposium. All of the the abstracts were published in the July 1999 issue of Epidemiology.

The pre-conference symposium on "Biomarkers and Molecular Epidemiology in Risk Assessment" addressed the usefulness of biomarkers in epidemiologic studies, particularly for assessment of exposure, investigation of disease mechanism, and quantification of risk. Specific examples were presented. For example, the chemical 1,3-butadiane presents a dilemma for assessing health risks due to large differences in species sensitivity. However, biomarkers may help in the assessment of health risk for butadiene. Data was presented from previous studies in mice and rats, where mice are much more sensitive to cancer caused by butadiene. Differences in metabolism may explain this species sensitivity. Butadiene and its metabolites cause genetic changes in rats and mice, as well as in human cells exposed in culture. These changes, including gene mutation, chromosome aberrations, DNA binding, and other genetic effects, were described and it was indicated that genetic studies support butadiene's mechanism of action as qualitatively similar in mice, rats, and humans. There were two additional oral sessions on topic of biomarkers and molecular epidemiology.

Special emphasis in the conference was given to multicenter projects. A special oral session was devoted to the EXPOLIS project, "Exposure to Air Pollution of Adult Urban Populations in Europe," the largest exposure assessment project undertaken in Europe. Another session addressed two parallel multicenter projects in Europe and the U.S. -- the U.S. National Morbidity, Mortality and Air Pollution Study (NMMAPS), sponsored by Health Effects Institute, and European Air Pollution and Health: A European Approach (APHEA). These projects are attempting to evaluate and quantify the short-term effects of air pollution while at the same time addressing methodological issues. Other sessions and symposia on multicenter studies included the Central European Study on Air Pollution and Respiratory Health (CESAR), studying the health of primary school children based on a 21,000 student sample; the Relationship among Indoor, Outdoor and Personal Air (RIOPA) study, a U.S.-based exposure study; and NHEXAS (National Human Exposure Assessment Survey).

The oral and poster sessions were grouped around special themes which represented a wealth of knowledge in various environmental epidemiology issues (exposures and outcomes), including an oral session on Noise and Health. Noise plays an important role in the development of integrated models of environmental stressors (e.g., noise mapping skills). New results that emerged from this session were:

  • Road traffic noise was not associated with mental health in one community sample. However, mental health was associated with very high levels of noise from military aircraft in Japan.
  • There is increasing evidence about the relationship of both road and air traffic with hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Main effects of aircraft noise found in a large population survey around Schiphol Airport (The Netherlands) were annoyance and sleep disturbance. Other health effects (e.g., use of medication, self-perceived health) were small, but might affect a large number of people (2,000—18,000).
  • There are new developments in the field of noise models, particularly in the field of noise exposure and effect modeling for the purpose of policy planning and the evaluation of noise measures.

Other topic areas addressed during the conference included the following:

Exposure with links to health effects: air pollutants; hazardous wastes; water pollution; persistent organic pollutants; lead; environmental tobacco smoke; traffic; endocrine disruptors; mercury and cadmium; pesticides; non-ionizing radiation; occupational exposures; electromagnetic fields; indoor air; diet; seasonal and climate variability.

Health outcomes related to environmental exposures: adult and child cancer; children's respiratory health; allergies; pregnancy and child outcomes; cardiovascular effects.

Methods development: monitoring methods; computer tools; exposure and dose estimation and modeling.

The interface of research and policy: transport and public health; risk communication and perception; whistleblowers in environmental epidemiology; risk assessment; policy and economic issues; environmental policies; humanitarian emergencies.

In a plenary symposium major research agendas for the next time period were presented. These included those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Commission, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the European Science Foundation, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Department of Energy research programs and priorities in environment and health.

The organizers of next year's annual meeting extended an invitation to come to Buffalo, New York, next August, where the meeting theme will be "Environmental Epidemiology in Pan America and the World: Building Connections."

Participants will long remember the 1999 conference for the earthquake that struck Athens on the third day, during the afternoon sessions. The earthquake caused the buildings at the conference site to tremble for several seconds and sent participants outside to safety. Fortunately, there was no damage or injury at the conference site, but the earthquake, measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale, shook the entire Athens area, destroying many buildings and factories and killing dozens of people in and around the epicenter in the northern suburbs.

Submitted by Klea Katsouyanni, MSc, DrMedSc

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