A scoping review of the epidemiological methods used to investigate the health effects of industrially contaminated sites

Manuela De Sario, Roberto Pasetto, Simona Vecchi, Ariana Zeka, Gerard Hoek, Paola Michelozzi, Ivano Iavarone, Antony Fletcher, Lisa Bauleo*, Carla Ancona

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: this paper is based upon work from COST Action ICSHNet. Industrial contaminated sites (ICSs) are of high concern since industrial plants have produced widespread contamination potentially affecting the health of local population. OBJECTIVES: to assess the types of epidemiological designs applied in studies of health effects related to ICSs according to time periods, type of ICS, and geography. METHODS: a literature search was conducted in Medline (OVID) through June 30th, 2018, using MeSH and customized terms, and no restrictions on publication year or language. We included all studies throughout the world where a potential contamination of industrial origin occurred, an epidemiological approach (including biomonitoring, HBM) was applied, and health outcomes or exposure biomarkers among residents were investigated. Data on publication year, geographical localization and ICS characterization, study design (systematic reviews, cohort, case-control, temporal changes, cross-sectional, ecological, descriptive - area-level, case-series, narrative reviews, and HBM), and health outcomes were extracted from the abstracts. To check the sensitivity of the main search strategy, a case-study on Italy was conducted applying an ad-hoc search. RESULTS: from a literature search capturing 5,485 studies, 655 studies on resident populations were identified. The review includes more than 376 different ICSs, 86% from Europe, North America, and Asia combined, mostly dealing with nuclear sites and mining industries, waste and petrochemical activities. Most of the studies were descriptive (32.5%), cross-sectional (16.3%), or narrative review (14.8%), while analytical studies - case-control and cohort studies (9.6% and 8.4%, respectively) - were rarer; HBM were only 6.9%. A total of 235 studies, conducted mostly in Asia (34.5%), Europe (25.5%), and North America (22.3%), included children. The most frequently studied outcome was cancer (33.7%), followed by respiratory diseases (11.4%), and reproductive health (11.4%). The ad-hoc strategy greatly increased the number of detected papers (+122%). CONCLUSIONS: future research should adopt the most valid and suitable study design, according to the area-specific social and environmental context, also in areas of the world which are less studied, but with very high environmental worries of the resident population suffering the industrial contamination. Involvement of local experts on ICSs and local inventories are recommended to improve the coverage of the present inventory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-68
Number of pages10
JournalEpidemiologia e Prevenzione
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: the research input of TF was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Health Impact of Environmental Hazards at King’s College London in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and Imperial College London.


  • Environmental epidemiology
  • Industrially contaminated sites
  • Residential exposure
  • Study design


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