BILIV project

Lichen biomonitoring and territorial vulnerability


Scientific context and issues

Environmental risk factors give rise to a considerable impact on the human health (Miguel et al., 2020). These risks concern the presence and/or the input of pollutants (metals, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, persistent organic pollutants, greenhouse gas, …) in the various environments of the Earth which lead to a decrease in environmental quality. As a consequence, exposed populations are not equal in the face of pollution and spatial inequalities in health in Europe are still observed (Schüle et al., 2019). Despite the improvement of healthcare access, socially disadvantaged populations with low wages and belonging to an ethnic minority are subject to disproportionately high levels of pollutants (Crosemarie, 2015).

In France, the assessment and the management of Environmental and Social Inequalities in Health (‘IESS’ French acronym) are issues worked on by the various Health-Environment National Plans (‘PNSE’ French acronym). In this context, our research team (LGCgE-SVF – SIGLES research axis) has included its research program CISTERRES (Mapping of vulnerability and adaptability indices for the territories in environment and health, 2017-2019) in this theme. It has adopted a novel and interdisciplinary approach in environmental health thanks to spatialized and concomitant analysis of environmental, health and socioeconomic data with the use of vulnerability and resilience spatialized composite indices (Brousmiche et al., 2020a, 2020b). This research program also revealed a weak characterization of environmental pollution and for its composite character.

According to this observation, a more complete characterization of the environment is necessary to better understand health inequalities. Thereby the BILIV project issue since 2019 concerns the optimization of Environmental and Social Inequalities in Health characterization taking care of environmental determining factors of territories. This research program is supported by the Regional Health Agency (ARS Hauts-de-France) as part of Action 27 of the third Health-Environment Regional Plan (‘PRSE 3’ French acronym).



Two main objectives are considered in this project to characterize the environmental pollution and its composite character:

  • Optimize the characterization of pollutants accumulation in air, water and soil at very fine scale. The main methodological obstacles to be clarified are the availability and accessibility of fine-scale data and the integration of quantitative and qualitative data into a spatialized index. The hypothesis wants to demonstrate that the most vulnerable territories are more contaminated than the least vulnerable territories.
  • Identify areas where specific health diagnosis would conceivable (cohort development, assessment of health impacts). The main methodological obstacle to be clarified is the aggregation of variables while limiting the misrepresentation of the information. The study aims to demonstrate that the integration of new environmental data in the vulnerability index increases its relevance according to local health-environment issues.



The project is based on a combined approach:

  1. Lichen biomonitoring,
  2. Identification and exploitation of environmental contamination measure databases.


First methodological axis

A localized measurement campaign is realized to estimate the air quality on 303 sites within 6 zones according to CISTERRES project (LILLE, VALENCIENNES and DOUAI with a high vulnerability; CYSOING, AGNY and CINQUEUX with a low vulnerability). Frequency and cover of each lichen species constitute the basis for calculations of various indicators such as medium cover, specific diversity, biological index of epiphyte lichens (‘IBLE’ French acronym) and eutrophication. Environmental conditions for each site will be characterized (NF EN 16413, 2014).

Summary presentation of NF EN 16413, 2014.



Second methodological axis

New accessible spatialized data at local scale for Hauts-de-France region are collected thanks to Open Data policies. This information shows the quality and/or the ecological state of atmospheric, terrestrial and aquatic environments considering pollutant emissions, pollution origin, risks and natural hazards for the region.

Out of 74 databases collected, 14 were considered. The selection step concerns the validation of each variable inclusion according to these following criteria:

  • A data which is the bearer of independent information,
  • An exhaustiveness and accessibility data for regional area,
  • An accessible data at local scale,
  • A data appropriate to the territorial context,
  • A reliable data monitored by the producer,
  • A recent data.

As far as exclusion criteria are concerned, the scientific literature quotes the following:

  • A data describing individual behaviors,
  • A data unrelated to the health-environment issues.

Then cartographic and statistical analysis of each collected variable will be produced before their integration to vulnerability and resilience indices. This data input will improve the representation of these indices for the benefit of a better characterization of Environmental and Social Inequalities in Health.

Research and selection results of databases.



Methodological prospects

In addition to data of the measurement campaign and the database exploitation, a campaign of lichen and soil samples will be realized to analyze the bioaccumulation of contaminants in lichens (NF X43-904, 2013) and the presence of contamination in soils. Ubiquitous and abundant Xanthoria parietina in Hauts-de-France region and soils will be taken on each site where frequency and cover of lichens were noticed. These analyzes will make it possible to assess the impregnation of atmospheric and terrestrial environments by environmental contaminants of each zone in the medium/long term.


Project expectations

The input of new reliable data on vulnerability and resilience indices will improve the identification of zones with vulnerable municipalities from those with low vulnerable municipalities, and the characterization of environmental conditions within these zones.

As a methodological point of view, the sensitivity of the indices to the contribution of initially poorly represented environmental data will be evaluated. In the longer term, this process of characterizing Environmental and Social Inequalities in Health could contribute to the development of strategies and action perspectives as close as possible to and with the population. Finally, it is also intended to contribute to the establishment of recommendations and the development of public decision-making tools, in order to change individual and collective behavior.


Project results to follow…



Brousmiche, D., Occelli, F., Genin, M., Cuny, D., Deram, A., Lanier, C. Spatialized composite indices to evaluate environmental health inequalities: Meeting the challenge of selecting relevant variables. Ecological Indicators,111, 2020a.

Brousmiche, D., Genin, M., Occelli, F., Frank, L., Deram, A., Cuny, D., Lanier, C. How can we analyze environmental health resilience and vulnerability? A joint analysis with composite indices applied to the north of France. Science of the Total Environment, In Press, 2020b.

Crosemarie, P. Inégalités environnementales et sociales : identifier les urgences, créer des dynamiques. L’avis rendu par le Conseil économique, social et environnemental (CESE). Annales des Mines – Responsabilité et Environnement, 79(3), 2015.

Miguel, V., Lamas, S., Espinosa-Diez, C. Role of non-coding-RNAs in response to environmental stressors and consequences on human health. Redox Biology, 2213-2317, 2020.

Norme CEN NF-EN-16413 : Biosurveillance à l’aide de lichens : évaluation de la diversité de lichens épiphytes. Comité Européen de Normalisation, 2014.

Schüle, S.A., Hilz, L.K., Dreger, S., Bolte, G. Social Inequalities in Environmental Resources of Green and Blue Spaces: A Review of Evidence in the WHO European Region. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(7), 1216, 2019.