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The human factor

Institute is going to measure health-related financial losses from different types of air pollution

Eduardo CesarSão Paulo’s polluted air: the cost of this type of aggression to our healthEduardo Cesar

A network of 130 researchers working in six units of the federation is going to dedicate itself over the next two years to calculating the financial losses caused by air pollution. Headquartered in the Medical School of the University of São Paulo (FMUSP), the National Institute of Integrated Analysis of Environmental Risk is promising to produce some robust scientific research on the impact of the use of fuel on human health. “Environmental policies mainly concern the preservation of flora, fauna or water resources. Human beings are seen as merely aggressors. It just so happens that they’re also receptors and human health isn’t included in the discussion on environmental issues”, says Paulo Hilário Saldiva, head professor of the Department of Pathology at FMUSP and the institute’s coordinator. “It’s our intention to supply information so that the cost to human health can be calculated into environmental management. This figure should be taken into consideration by companies and by those who formulate public policies”, he states.

Saldiva gives an example: Brazil’s decision to postpone the use of diesel oil that has lower levels of sulphur was taken based on the economic impact that the change would cause to the automobile and oil industries, but the damage to human health in keeping this pollutant diesel over the years was never calculated. In the same way, says the professor, we know that the cost of  pollution from automobiles in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region is R$ 1.5 billion a year, but this figure is not taken into account by public transport policies and those linked to automobile production. “It’s this type of information we’re going to supply, based on scientific research that’s capable of showing who’s producing pollution and who’s on the receiving end of it and what the effects and the cost of this are”, says the professor. The network led by Saldiva is one of the 101 National Institutes of Science and Technology (INCT), created in 2008 by the federal government. It will receive R$ 7.2 million from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and FAPESP, which co-funds all of the 35 INCTs in the State of São Paulo.

Some of the researchers from the network have already been working together for some time with support from bodies like the CNPq and FAPESP, in addition to partnerships with international entities like the universities of Harvard and Toronto. With the status of INCT, production should make major strides, according to Saldiva. “USP is already one of the five leading institutions in the world in academic production in the fields of environmental health and toxicology. With expansion of our activities we’re going to climb even higher up this ranking”, says Saldiva. The researcher points out, however, that the institute’s activities will not extend to the private sector. “Our client is the community and our production will be measured in papers.”

The research will analyze three pollution scenarios: urban, the one caused by the agri-industry and the one resulting from biofuels. Among the studies that are underway is the monitoring of 400 pregnant women who have been exposed to different degrees of air pollution and who will be accompanied until their children are 3 years old; the development of a pollutant concentrator for monitoring the response of laboratory animals to the effects of different types of fuel; and the creation of cheap alternative methods for measuring pollution and its effects.