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Division of Climate and Environmental Health
Our work is based on four main pillars:
- Risk assessment
The division’s cutting-edge expertise is in the field of environmental health, with experimental toxicology, molecular biology, access to health registers and biobanks, exposure research, epidemiology and systematic knowledge summaries. This gives us an excellent starting point for strengthening knowledge about causal relationships between various environmental factors and health outcomes. In addition, the division has extensive national and international research collaboration and is involved in many projects funded through the EU's research program.
The division of climate and environmental health, together with other professional environments at NIPH, has emergency preparedness responsibility for major environmental and chemical incidents. Emergency preparedness responsibility is established in the Norwegian Public Health Act, which gives the NIPH responsibility for necessary emergency preparedness, measures in emergency situations, the duty to monitor the state of health of the population, and the duty to provide assistance when people are exposed to health-damaging environmental factors.
In the emergency preparedness work at the institute, the division provides advice and risk assessments on health effects resulting from exposure to low doses over time via air, drinking water, diet and the environment, and combination effects of different types of exposures. The chemical preparedness at NIPH includes assistance to health authorities and municipal health services in the event of chemical accidents and pollution situations. The division leads the project «Chemical emergency preparedness and radiation preparedness» in the Program for cross-sectional emergency preparedness work at the department, which will start in 2022.
The Division of Climate and Environmental Health has many advisory tasks, and the advisory assignments are based closely on research in the area. To provide clients with a professional basis for making good decisions and giving advice to the people, the division places great emphasis on developing and continuously raising the quality of our advisory expertise and our deliveries. The risk assessment field is developing very rapidly, and the complexity and expertise we need has increased greatly in recent years. New methods for risk assessment of mixtures, more use of in vitro and in silico models, better utilisation of big data and exposure models, are some of the areas that we concentrate on.
The division performs extensive laboratory activities at the institute’s premises in Lovisenberggata, Oslo. The activities include molecular biology and genetic toxicological methods, work with stem cells, advanced cell models, immunological and cellular methodology, methods development, and analysis. The division has advanced, up-to-date, well-equipped laboratories.
The division is organised with three departments: Chemical Toxicology, Air Quality and Noise and Food Safety.
The focus on climate change and health is a part of the NIPH's strategy. The division leads the work, in close collaboration with the rest of the institute, to cover the breadth of the issues. Key words in the strategy are climate, environment, food and health, where we will take on a new role and become a key player: Climate changes occur, and are affecting the environment and living conditions globally. According to the WHO, climate change is now the biggest global public health threat. We do need new knowledge both to adapt to a changed climate and to limit the health consequences. The Division for Climate and Environment Health will develop new knowledge about causes, risks, health effects and measures, based on our methodological expertise and infrastructure (health registers, health surveys, laboratory activities and biobanks). Key public health issues that we will shed light on in the coming years are:
- Food, diet and water
- Urban and residential areas
- Relationship between climate change, environmental toxins, natural toxins, other pollution and health effects
Department of Chemical Toxicology
We are all exposed to a range of chemicals, radiation, particles and allergens through food, air, drinking water, cosmetics and other consumer goods. The Department of Chemical Toxicology is involved in national and international work to assess possible health hazards from such environmental factors. The research in the department is the basis for advice and assessments to, for example, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (‘Mattilsynet’), the Norwegian Environment Agency (‘Miljødirektoratet’), the Ministry of Health and Care Services and other health authorities, in addition to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety and OECD. The department provides professional assistance in emergency preparedness work relating to chemicals and radiation.
The advice provided by the department builds closely on the research that the department conducts. To be able to provide clients with a professional basis for making good decisions and giving advice to people, a lot of work in the department revolves around further development of competence within methods that are used for risk and risk assessments. Risk assessment develops very quickly, and the complexity and level of competence required increases.
Here we can mention:
- New methods for risk assessment of mixtures
- New methods for hazard assessment
- in vitro and in silico models
- Large epidemiological studies
- "Next Generation Risk Assessment" (NGRA) methods
- "New Assessment Methods" (NAMS) within hazard assessment
The research provides new knowledge about how chemicals affect health. There is a particular concern with the effect chemicals have in early life stages. We are concerned with establishing causal connections and mechanistic insight. This means that the department uses more human studies, epidemiological data, in silico models and cell cultures. In particular, genotoxic effects, molecular effects (transcriptional and epigenetic), and effects on the developing immune and nervous systems are important.
The department has extensive networks and is involved in a number of large research projects. The department is a partner in CERAD (Center for Radioactivity, Humans and the Environment), a Center of Excellence (CoE, ‘SFF’). CERAD studies the effect of low-dose and dose-rate radiation on biological systems. The Department of Chemical Toxicology is active in ongoing Horizon2020 projects such as Eximious (effects of exposomes on the immune system), POLYRISK (effects of nano- and microplastics on human health), HBM4EU (AOP development and biomarkers for effects) and ONTOX (developing New Assessment Methods to study chronic toxicity). The department has projects related to the further development of OECD tests that will be useful in the risk assessment work. In addition, the department has an important role in the ‘Partnership for Assessment of Risks from Chemicals’ (PARC), which is a Horizon Europe initiative.
To study the effects of chemicals, our laboratories will work with:
Advanced in vitro models such as human pluripotent stem cells
- Human neuronal stem cell model
- Liver 3D models. For endpoint analyses, one uses molecular biological and genotoxicological methods
- Advanced immunological and cellular methodologies such as CyTOF (mass cytometry) and ‘High Content Imaging’ to study the effects of chemicals in our models
Department of Air Quality and Noise
The Department of Air Quality and Noise conducts research and advice on health effects related to:
- Indoor climate
- Outdoor air pollution
- Green areas
Furthermore, the department has extensive tasks relating to advice on tobacco and nicotine-containing products, such as e-cigarettes.
In emergency situations, the department has tasks that are linked to health hazards in the event of emissions to air.
Our research is about the health effects of research on indoor climate, outdoor air pollution, noise and green areas, and nanoparticles. The department participates in large national and international projects and places great emphasis on the research being relevant to our advisory tasks.
Our advice to various ministries and directorates, as well as municipalities, municipal doctors and county governors in the area of the department, is thus based closely on research-based knowledge. Providing advice to the public is also an important task in the department.
Department of Food Safety
The department works with topics including the effects of environmental toxins, diet and intestinal flora on health.
The department examines environmental toxins that people are exposed to, their origin, and the effects of exposure on health. We are exposed to environmental toxins primarily through food, which is also the most important source of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and other biologically active substances. The department therefore studies both positive and negative substances in food and how they affect health.
Chemical analyses of human biological material to map how the population is exposed to environmental toxins is a central part of the department's work. We also map the composition of the intestinal flora in children, what factors are important for the intestinal flora, and the connection with health. The department has major tasks in national and international risk assessment work.
Our research aims to provide better and more holistic insight into the connections between exposure to environmental toxins, intestinal flora and diet, and consequences for health. The department has a high level of expertise in exposure research, toxicology, epidemiology, nutrition and analytical chemistry.
The department specialises in the content of nutrient and foreign substances in food as well as substances in water and the indoor environment. In some projects, different sources of environmental pollution are mapped by comparing calculations from food, indoor air and dust with what can be measured in the body. This knowledge provides a better basis for risk assessment of these substances.
We use human material from various biobanks to study how environmental toxins can affect health. Current environmental pollutants we study are various flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), heavy metals and other elements, phthalate, bisphenol, parabens and pesticides. We are also working on investigating what natural toxins and process-inducing substances have to say for health.
Many of the research projects include the development of fast, sensitive and quality-assured analysis methods for determining substances in human material. The department relies on advanced instruments such as GC-LRMS, GC-HRMS, LC-MS / MS and UPLC-QTof, which generate analysis data for national and international biomonitoring studies.
The department plays an important role in research in the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Study (MoBa), which has collected data from mothers, fathers and children from before the children were born, both biological samples and information from questionnaires. The department has developed and validated a comprehensive diet questionnaire for pregnant women, which forms the basis for much of the research. The department performs environmental toxin analyses of the biological material and is involved in many national and international research projects that investigate what diet has to say in pregnancy and early life years for physical and mental health outcomes in mother and child.
The Norwegian Environmental Biobank (‘Miljøbiobanken’) is an important priority. Here, blood and urine samples have been collected from thousands of people. The material is used for research and to monitor the exposure to environmentally hazardous substances. The Norwegian Environmental Biobank may help to detect new environmental toxins at an early stage, or to investigate whether measures that are implemented to reduce pollution have an effect on health.
The department provides professional advice to the health, food and environmental authorities and has employees who are involved in the Scientific Committee for Food Safety (‘VKM’) and the European Food Safety Authority EFSA. The employees at the department give advice on e.g. environmental toxins, natural toxins and pesticide residues in food. We also provide advice in the area of safe food, dietary supplements and enrichment of food, and participate in work with holistic risk assessments of harmful chemicals.
The department has extensive research activity, both with national and international funding, large scientific publications, and is responsible for developing and updating factual information on NIPH’s website.