Just like anywhere in the world, the people in the Czech Republic suffer from chronic diseases and disorders that are somehow related to environmental pollution. Exploring just how harmful substances affect us is difficult, though, and can only be done through truly long-term and comprehensive studies. This is the main reason why the scientists at Recetox (Research Centre for Environmental Chemistry and EcoToxicology) have joined forces with people from Brno and local administrative officials who have access to a huge volume of interesting data. In addition to Masaryk University, University College London, and ETH Zürich are participating in the project.
“We are interested in the physical city environment, i.e. traffic, buildings, dustiness, temperature, and green areas, as well as in what people feel like there and what their health looks like,” says professor Jana Klánová, director of the centre. To that end, Recetox is given information about traffic and housing structure in the city, while its environment experts measure other data, such as air quality, themselves.
The Recetox research centre at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University was the very first research organization in Europe to succeed in all three challenges of the European Horizon 2020 program, designed to spread excellence. Recetox succeeded and outperformed other European centres also thanks to its experience with the CELSPAC long-term study, which has been monitoring the life, development, and health of children born in South Moravia since the beginning of the 1990s.
How exactly can toxic environments affect our lives? For example, children and adults living close to vineyards (which in our region, the promised land of wine, can happen quite often) may be exposed to pesticides whose impact on people are still quite unknown. Recetox scientists are also interested in substances produced by burning, construction materials, cosmetic products, and even synthetic outdoor apparel. A lot of them may disrupt the hormonal balance of people’s bodies, potentially affecting fertility and pregnancy, as well as the occurrence of obesity, allergies, and respiratory diseases. In addition to the effects of harmful substances, the scientists will research genetic predispositions and lifestyle. And all these in a living lab!
“The concept of this living lab is about doing science with and for people. We invite them to get involved in our research and provide us with various data about themselves and their lives. In return, they’ll have an opportunity to learn more about what they are exposed to and how they can protect themselves. In addition, they may come up with their own impulses, ideas, and worries to motivate us to explore new topics,” explains Klánová.
The living lab will be based on close cooperation with local people. Naturally, the scientists are interested in measuring the presence of substances in their bodies, but mainly they want to learn how people perceive their environment, what troubles them and what conditions they live in. Their aim is to find a way to improve the quality of the environment and avoid the effects of harmful substances in a better way, all this together with the representatives of the city and the region.