John Libbey Eurotext

Environnement, Risques & Santé


Working with the social sciences to understand local environmental health issues Volume 9, issue 1, Janvier-Février 2010

InVS Département santé environnement 12, rue du Val d’Osne 94415 Saint-Maurice cedex France

Experience has shown that, for many reports of health problems attributed to the environment that arrive at the French Institute of Public Health Surveillance, optimal response requires understanding and identifying their background and context. Numerous factors can engender real or perceived health problems that cannot be attributed to medical factors alone; other sources include the social and psychosocial environments and even the individual psychic state. The environmental health department has sought to identify the social science disciplines likely to help expand its analysis. We have discussed these issues with specialists in neuropsychiatry, psychoanalysis, psychosociology, sociology and anthropology. Acute collective phenomena (such as sick building syndrome or mass psychogenic illnesses) of unexplained origin are an excellent example for drawing out the advantages of these collaborations, for such situations combine the requirement of scientific openness with the need to react and respond rapidly. The key points demonstrate the ineluctability of interdisciplinary work, the need to master these methods, and the ability of each field to participate in a communal responsive to analyse the initial elements of the situation. These different points are the essential links in the chain making possible the operational concretisation of these collaborations and the more accurate pinpointing of their respective roles within a given intervention.