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Understanding health threats in the places we live and work

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Health Protection, PHE's science

Updated 19 September 2018

This week (20-23 Sep) staff from our Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (CRCE) will be meeting the public at New Scientist Live at EXCEL London.

But what is CRCE? And what does it do? Tim Gant explains.

What is CRCE?

CRCE is the part of PHE concerned with potential threats to health arising from the environments in which we live and work. That involves looking at everything from light sources and UV and other radiation sources to chemicals in the environment and includes wi-fi, sunlight and UV.

Our work covers a huge breadth of subjects including air pollution, drinking water, chemical and radiation regulation nationally and internationally, climate change, chemical hazards and risk, noise, extreme weather events, radiation (natural and man-made) and emergency preparedness and response.

The remit of CRCE is to research existing and emerging environmental hazards and environmental effects and to develop and provide advice, and new evidence, to all levels of government, from town halls to Whitehall.

What does CRCE do?

We have a mixture of researchers and operational scientists. Our researchers, many of whom are internationally respected in their field, undertake and publish their own science as well as review and appraise emerging work from their areas.

This means that government can be assured that its guidance on everything from concerns around cancers associated with rubber used in football pitches, ‘risks’ from mobile phones through to susceptibilities associated with physical or genetic factors, and regulatory testing is informed by the best available evidence.

Research scientists also review the work of others in an independent manner to arrive at informed and unbiased opinions. As an example, CRCE is completing a review for government on the effectiveness of interventions related to air pollution, so it can make recommendations next year on how to tackle this important public health issue. Similarly in collaboration with academic partners it completed reviews on health effects from composting and intensive farming.

Our operational scientists spend their time supporting health bodies, the police and Environment Agency, as Government departments in addition to others, on the public health protection aspects of a range of environmental incidents.

For instance, if a rubbish site goes up in smoke those tasked with managing the event contact our environmental public health scientists for an assessment on the risks to the public from the fire.
Or if police are alerted to a radioactive source, or a chemcial that’s been found in a suburban street they’ll contact our radiation or chemical on-call officers for support on how to handle such an alert.
We also have the remit to warn the public about risks to their health from a range of other incidents, including hot and cold weather, space weather and UV.

Among other roles and responsibilities we;

  • develop advice for medical practitioners who use radiation in medicine
  • answer stakeholder and public questions on the effect on health of chemicals
  • advise Local Authorities on public health
  • advise nationally and internationally on chemical use and testing
  • research into health impacts of extreme weather events and climate change in the built and natural environment
  • assist those tasked with creating emergency plans around power stations and chemical facilities
  • input into risk assessments for building on brownfield sites
  • assess the threats to health from major infrastructure
  • commission poisons experts to assist frontline NHS staff treating those poisoned
  • develop Europe wide emergency plans and networks for dealing with major cross border environmental incidents

Why are you attending New Scientist Live?

Government science has traditionally not been very visible even though all publications are open. Attending New Scientist Live allows use to put a face on Government Science, not boffins but real people. It also allows us to get feedback directly from the public that could influence our work program.
Furthermore in a time where the work in academia, government and industry overlaps to such a large degree and scientists are increasingly moving between sectors, it is important that we share a platform to showcase our work.

That’s why we’re coming to New Scientist Live. We want to talk to the public about what we do, why we do it and meet those with an interest in science to explain how a career in environmental public health science is rewarding and great fun.

Where can we find you at New Scientist Live?

We’re on Stand 1441 at the Excel in London, from 10am to 5pm from Thursday, September 20 to Sunday, September 23.

And this year we will be joined by scientists from the National Infection Service who study how and why infections spread. Through an outbreak simulation live at the ExCel centre you’ll be able to learn more about the work PHE does to monitor and control disease outbreaks. You’ll also be able to learn more about the research we do to better understand the way that infections impact the human body and our work to develop vaccines for emerging infections.

So, if you’re interested in radon, radiation, UV (sunlight), noise, chemicals, carbon monoxide, bio-aerosols, genetics or epigenetics, microbiomes and health, nanoparticles, air pollution or threats to health from lead (and let’s face it there’s something in there for everyone!) come along.

As well as having information to take away, there will be games for budding young scientists and those who aren’t so young, but still enthusiastic – so come and say hello and have a go at colouring in our backdrop.

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