But Is It Healthy? (Part 1) – Health Impact Assessment and NEPA

Alaskan North Slope Oil Production

Alaskan North Slope Oil Production

You’ve never heard of Nuiqsut, Alaska, but this small Inupiat community located 7 miles from a large oil development is changing how NEPA documents are written.  According to a former mayor, the health impacts of oil development show “up in our health statistics, alcohol treatment programs, emergency service needs, police responses – you name it.”

While preparing an EIS for an oil and gas lease of the National Petroleum Reserve, the Bureau of Land Management conducted the first-ever joint federal Health Impact Assessment/Environmental Impact Statement (HIA/EIS) to address the community’s health concerns. You can read the innovative Northeast NPR-A EIS and learn more in the PowerPoint presentation “Integrating Health and Environmental Impact Assessment”.

The idea of including health in an EIS document is covered by NEPA (Sec 1508.27 (b)(2)Sec. 2 [42 USC §4321]), which encourages agencies to include HIAs in their NEPA documents.  According to Aaron Wernham, Director of the Health Impact Project, 4 other HIA/EIS have begun and the EPA in California is calling for an HIA on large highway project and port expansion.  It seems that new environmental analysis requirements start in California before trickling across the rest of the nation, so agencies in your backyard may require HIAs in your NEPA documents in the near future.

What is an HIA?

Essentially, an HIA is a tool to measure potential health impacts of policies or projects, in an attempt to avoid “unintended health consequences and unexpected costs,” according to the Health Impact Project.  They combine qualitative and quantitative methods, and can vary in scope and complexity, depending on the project and funding.

How does the HIA work?

Here are the major HIA steps, (according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention):

  • Screening – Identify if the project would benefit from an HIA.
  • Scoping – Identify which health effects to consider.
  • Assessment – Identify risks and benefits, and which people will be affected.
  • Recommendation – Suggest changes/alternatives to proposals to mitigate adverse health effects.
  • Reporting – Present the results.
  • Evaluation and Monitoring – Identify indicators and track the outcomes of the Recommendation.

Where can I learn more?

  • The Health Impact Project is calling for proposals for demonstrations of HIA projects. Grant money is awarded, and the website provides a wealth of helpful info regarding the process, and the future of HIAs.
  • The American Planning Association offers a free in-depth online workshop (requires realplayer) on HIAs, complete with a quiz, an evaluation, interactive tools, and tons of helpful resources.

Speaking of helpful resources:

Incorporating Health Impact Assessment into Community Design and Transportation Decisions.  A video presentation from February 23, 2010.

Integrating Health into Environmental Impact Reports.  The San Francisco Department of Public Health and the San Francisco Planning Department are leading the way with this process. On this page, you can go to their Eastern Neighborhoods Community HIA (pdf).

So, what do YOU think – is the HIA a valuable tool or more paperwork? Have you worked on a project that required an HIA? Share your opinion in the comments below.

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3 Responses to But Is It Healthy? (Part 1) – Health Impact Assessment and NEPA

  1. Roseline Lambert March 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    It seems a very interesting approach to use HIA and EIS in interaction. To learn more about HIA and to find HIA Guides and examples, I invite you to consult our page on this subject on the Public Policy Health Portal produced by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec: http://politiquespubliques.inspq.qc.ca/en/evalutaion.html

  2. Clare Appiah June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    I really appreciated But Is It Healthy? (Part 1) – Health Impact Assessment and NEPA | Plannovation. There exist several methods that could be employed that will yield top ranks within the major search engines.

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