The science of epidemiology has produced considerable evidence showing the relationship between social conditions of existence, concentrations of some air pollutants and certain indicators of impact on human health. However, the evaluation of the effects on mortality and morbidity of the population of the city of Lisbon is still incipient.
The RISKAR LX project seeks to fill this gap by identifying and characterizing the different profiles of vulnerability to air pollution in Lisbon. Thus, the interactions between environmental risk, territorial distribution, measurable health effects attributed to exposure to risk and sociographic characteristics of the exposed population, as well as the social perception of risk and the individuals’ ability to react (behaviors and attitudes) the core of the issues to be explored.
The sociological aspect of the RISKAR LX project aims to collect, systematize and analyze information that contributes to answering two essential questions:
1. How do social patterns, environmental conditions and territorial specificities compete and shape the different profiles of vulnerability to urban air pollution?
2. And if, as a social, rather than a scientific, technological, economic or political artifact, the place has or can have social variables such as gender, age group, educational level, occupation, social class, place of residence and among others, in exposure to and awareness of risk?
The need to deepen knowledge about the effects on human health resulting from exposure to atmospheric pollution has led to the realization of several studies by the scientific community. The systematic approach to morbidity and mortality events in the field of public health and its relation to the evaluation and management of air quality, as well as to the prevailing social conditions of existence in the areas of incidence, has been an area of stimulating research . These studies are based on the collection and analysis of indicators of health effects and also the concentrations of air pollutants to which the population is exposed. In this way, they allow the determination of response-response curves, which reflect the expected effects for the general population resulting from a certain concentration of atmospheric pollutants in ambient air. This type of analysis allows the reassessment of risk levels and, as a consequence, the redefinition of limit values for these pollutants. Its relevance goes beyond scientific knowledge and is vital as a decision support element. As argued in the Athens Charter (1998), improving (and defending) health at the local level is unequivocally associated with the principles of equity, sustainability, intersectoral cooperation and solidarity. It is therefore a problem which requires an integrated and interdisciplinary approach which can account for this interwoven network of interrelationships. The science of epidemiology has produced considerable evidence showing the relationship between the concentrations of some air pollutants and certain indicators of impact on human health. One of the most relevant documents in this field was the study developed by Pope et al. (1995). Due to its size, this study has contributed to increasing public awareness about the effects of atmospheric particles on human health. At the same time, new levels of risk associated with the daily exposure to this pollutant have been defined, serving as a basis for the revision of the North American legislation. Other studies, developed by authors such as Dockery et al. (1993) or Schwartz (1993), have given more consistency to this new framework. Europe has also been very active in this area, and a meta-analysis, supported by the World Health Organization, has been published compiling several epidemiological studies on the effects of exposure to microparticles on human health (WHO, 2004). In Portugal, the insufficiency of data, in particular of health impact indicators, systematically structured and available justifies the existing gaps in epidemiological information. These gaps were identified at least in the course of a project called “Diagnosis and methodology for the study of the effects of fine particles on human health in Lisbon”. This study, supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was developed by the proponent team of this new project, and its result is the proposal of a methodology for collecting and evaluating the effects of human exposure to atmospheric particles. The application of this methodology, this time with the integration of a sociological aspect that allows a joint approach of the several factors in presence (environmental, social, economic?), Will be the starting point of this new proposal.