Home > Spotlight on Spain

Spotlight on Spain
Bilbao, Spain
Click the phote to watch the whole picture.

List of all "Spotlights"


Spanish Society of Environmental Health.
Sociedad Española de Sanidad Ambiental

The Sociedad Española de Sanidad Ambiental (SESA) [Spanish Society of Environmental Health] was set up in 1991 with the key objective of acting as a forum to bring together all the individuals and legal entities whose professional or scientific activities take place in the field of Environmental Health (Environmental Health, Occupational Health, Food Hygiene and Environmental Toxicology, among other related activities).

The Society has more than 400 individual and corporate members, as well as other institutions affiliated as collaborating members. The members are public health technical staff, who are university graduates in Pharmacy, Biology, Medicine, Veterinary Science, Geography, etc.

The aim of the Society is to encourage the sharing of knowledge in the fields of research, management and staff training, as well as in any other area that contributes to the development and dissemination of Environmental Health.

As an independent, objective and professional body, SESA is committed to giving a scientific response to Spanish society about the rapid changes taking place in the field of Health as related to the Environment, for which there is a pressing need for explanatory forums to share and communicate information, focusing on the study and identification of environmental risk factors and their effects on health, as well as providing realistic and effective solutions.

SESA belongs to the Sociedad Española de Salud Pública y Administración Sanitaria (SESPAS) [Spanish Society of Public Health and Health Administration], which is a federation of 12 Spanish public health societies (Sociedad Española de Epidemiología [Spanish Society of Epidemiology], Asociación de Economía de la Salud [Spanish Health Economics Association], Red Española de Atención Primaria [Spanish Primary Care Network], Asociación de Juristas de la Salud [Association of Health Jurists] etc.). It is also a member of the International Federation of Environmental Health (IFEH).

Aims of SESA:

  • Dissemination of technical and scientific information
  • Promotion of research
  • Publication of periodic journals, technical guides and audiovisual media
  • Collaboration with other Spanish and international organizations with similar aims
  • Awarding prizes and grants
  • Organization of training courses
  • Establishing ways to provide information, consultation and documentation for the members

Environmental Health in Spain

Environmental health has a long tradition in Spain. Without going too far back in history, the Decree of 1953 regarding Local Health Authorities can be used to fix a date when doctors, pharmacists, and veterinaries had an outstanding role in the organizational structure of public health in Spain. Among other aspects, the duties of pharmacists focused on the control of the most important environmental factors, such as the water supply and sanitation in general, food of non-animal origin, as well as the provision and dispensing of medicines, all within a specific geographical area called a partido sanitario [the administrative district].

For Spain at that time, the model was very satisfactory. Professional pharmacists and the location of their activities, the pharmacy, were the focus not only for the dispensing of medicines (including charitable dispensing), but also for the provision of monitoring and control services for those food and environmental risks that could jeopardise the health of the population.

During the 1970s and 1980s, a series of circumstances in Spain caused the existing public health system to break down. It is worth stressing the following important events and trends: the approval of the Spanish Constitution; the publication of the Ley General de Sanidad [General Health Law]; the scientific development of the public health related disciplines, such as epidemiology and health economics; and the entry of Spain into the European Union. These events (and clearly other important ones) made the reorganization of public health necessary, so that it would be capable of responding to the problems of a rapidly changing society, as well as of incorporating into Spanish law all the environmental health and food hygiene regulations that resulted from entry into the European Union.

The new political model that adopted the Spanish Constitution created the Autonomous Communities (Spanish abbreviation CCAA) as regional units of the State. The CCAA were assigned a wide range of responsibilities, among others, those related to health.

Therefore, the Spanish health system is now characterized by strong decentralization, both in the provision of services and in their financing, as the Autonomous Communities are the institutions responsible for these functions.

The publication of the Ley General de Salud Pública 33/2011, of October 4th 2011 [General Public Health Law] has provided an additional boost to public health and, for the first time, greater emphasis has been given to “the preventive aspects and health promotion and protection”, as an area of health that previously had not had the same legal consideration as the care aspects. Moreover, this Law defines the coordination procedures among CCAA, assigning a key role in this coordination to the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality.

Environmental Health Activities

The Environmental Health activities that are carried out by the public health technical staff are within the framework of specific programmes. These programmes are implemented in every one of the Autonomous Communities and include the following:

  • Control and monitoring of water quality:
  • Water supply
  • Recreational uses (bathing areas, swimming pools, spas…)
  • Chemical safety (REACH and CLP regulations)
  • Monitoring of environmental determinants:
  • Pollen
  • Indoor and outdoor air quality
  • Extreme temperatures
  • UV radiation levels
  • Electromagnetic fields
  • Noise
  • Prevention and control of Legionnaires’ disease
  • Prevention and control of vectors and zoonoses

In addition, other activities that do not fall within specific programmes include the following:

  • Issuing health reports about plans, programmes, projects and activities subject to the regulations regarding Evaluation of Environmental Impact or similar norms.
  • Issuing health reports about complaints,
  • Etc.

Through its Subdirectorate-General of Environmental Health, the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality acts as a coordinator via the Environmental Health Committee, a body in which all the CCAA participate. The Committee implements the Environmental Health policies, programmes and actions approved by the European Union throughout the different CCAA.

The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with other Ministries with Environmental responsibilities, organizes initiatives such as the Health Observatory for monitoring Climate Change and Human Health, which is an entity that provides knowledge and support in decision making regarding this threat. The Ministry of Health is also involved in national biomonitoring projects and in those emanating from the European Union.


José Mª Ordóñez Iriarte (President of SESA)

Ángel Gómez Amorín (Vice-president of SESA)

Guadalupe Martínez Juárez (Secretary of SESA)

Sociedad Española de Sanidad Ambiental

September 2012