BELUGA – Baltic Network on Environmental Health and Sustainable Urban Development

What is BELUGA?

With the rapid urbanization going on worldwide, more and more people are exposed to air pollution and noise, as well as have reduced access to health promoting green areas. There is a great challenge to achieve ecologically sustainable city development while minimizing negative consequences for health and the environment. The BELUGA program focuses on strengthening sustainable and health-promoting urban development in the Baltic countries.

Through courses and conferences, BELUGA aims to bring together environmental epidemiology and urban planning expertise in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden as well as Belarus and Ukraine to expand and strengthen a network for environmental health and sustainable city development. BELUGA will promote exchange and transfer of knowledge in environmental epidemiology and sustainable urban development, as a basis for preparation of applications for future funding of the collaboration.

What are the environmental health challenges that BELUGA aims to address?

Air pollution can cause cardiovascular disease and respiratory diseases such as asthma and disturbed lung function in children. Traffic noise increases the risk of hypertension and myocardial infarction. In recent studies a relation between traffic noise and obesity has been indicated. Possible mechanisms include noise induced sleep disturbances and long-term stress, which both can promote development of cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Climate change may pose particular threats for urban areas. For example, it is expected that the number and intensity of heat waves will increase. In urban areas this may be particularly pronounced since such areas are generally warmer than surrounding regions. Several studies suggest that living near green areas is associated with beneficial health effects. The mechanisms are not well understood, but it is indicated that availability of parks and other green areas in the vicinity must be taken into consideration in the planning of sustainable urban areas.

International cooperation in BELUGA – knowledge transfer and exchange to meet environmental health challenges

Many environmental health issues know no borders. Emissions from traffic, industries and power generation affect not only the area where they are generated, but whole regions. International air traffic contributes to significant health and climate effects from the local to the global scale. To meet these challenges, international cooperation is highly needed.

Through BELUGA, knowledge transfer and exchange in the environment epidemiology field could raise competence and increase the ability to interpret existing evidence, measure and monitor environmental health effects and conduct exposure assessments. It is also necessary to involve decision makers at local, regional and national levels engaged in planning by close contact with administrators and politicians. In Stockholm, there is extensive experience of such collaboration through the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, and its role as a national authority in environmental health, generating relevant research and risk assessments on the national and international levels. There is also the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine of the Stockholm County Council, which has a similar role on the regional and local levels. One aim of the present network is to establish contacts between corresponding organizations in other countries of BELUGA and to learn from the experience of each other.

A further aim of BELUGA is to prepare applications for future funding of the collaboration. In particular, this relates to programs supported by the European Union, such as Horizon 2020, the Central Baltic Program 2014-2020 and ERASMUS+. Many partners in BELUGA have extensive experience of successfully competing for funding in international collaborative projects.

Partners in BELUGA


"Environmental Epidemiology", Riga, 20th–22nd of August 2018

The course was organized by Riga Stradiņš University and the Institute of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health, Riga, in collaboration with Karolinska Institutet. The course was at advanced level and directed at students from public, occupational and environmental health, as well as specialists and experts (MSc., PhD) working in the field. The focus of the course was on methodology and practice of environmental epidemiology, including study design, interpretation and applications in risk assessment. For more information, please see the announcement and the course program.

"Urban planning and health", Tartu, 2nd–4th of June 2018

The course was organized by University of Tartu in cooperation with Karolinska Institutet. Students from different disciplines such as public health, epidemiology, geography, architecture and planning, landscape architecture, city planning and sociology were invited to discuss how to make urban environments healthier. For more information, please see the course description and course summary.

Final conference “Environmental Health and Sustainable Urban Development”, Riga, 28th of March 2019

The final conference of the BELUGA program focused on integrated environmental health and sustainable urban development based on experiences from countries in the Baltic region. For more information, please see the announcement, with information about the conference, including speaker presentation and schedule.

Funding and duration

The network activities are funded by Swedish Institute and run between October 2017 and March 2019.


The final application to the Swedish Institute.


Anna Persson