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Decision-making in environmental health
  1. D Coggon
  1. MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, UK

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    Edited by C Corvalan, D Briggs, G Zielhuis G. (Pp 278; price not stated). E & FN Spon, 2000. ISBN 0-419-25940-6.

    Published on behalf of WHO, this book considers the use of statistical information on health and the environment in the management of environmental health problems. It comprises nine chapters, each prepared by one or more of eight authors, on topics ranging from largely theoretical discussions of statistical and epidemiological methods to the practical application of one specific approach to environmental health assessment (the HEADLAMP project) in six cities in developing countries. There is also an annex describing 13 examples of environmental health indicators.

    The target readership includes researchers in public health, epidemiology, and social sciences, and those working in government institutions concerned with environmental health, but I suspect that few readers will wish to follow the text in detail from cover to cover. The finer subtleties of statistical modelling in ecological studies and time series are unlikely to be important for those working with relatively crude data in developing countries, and will be above readers who do not already have a solid grounding in epidemiology. On the other hand, the more rough and ready approaches to the identification of local environmental health problems in the developing world will only be of limited relevance to researchers attempting to assess much smaller risks in affluent settings.

    Nevertheless, there is something of interest for everyone. I found the review of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) particularly helpful, and was fascinated by a reference to legal controls on the burning of sea coal in mediaeval England because of concerns about the associated air pollution.

    I would recommend the book principally to people working on environmental health problems in developing countries who are looking for practical guidance on how to tackle important problems in difficult circumstances. Those wishing to learn more about the techniques of environmental epidemiology that are applied in developed countries will probably do better to consult more specialised texts, although some chapters are worth a quick browse.