Health impact assessments prove critical public health tool

As natural gas development expands nationwide, policymakers, communities and public health experts are increasingly turning to health impact assessments (HIA) as a means of predicting the effects of drilling on local communities, according to a new study from the Colorado School of Public Health.

The report, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, highlights lessons learned when scientists from the school were hired to assess the possible health impacts of fracking in a small western Colorado town.

"Health impact assessments can be a useful public health tool to determine the possible of development on the local level," said the study's lead author Roxana Zulauf Witter, MD, MPH, at the Colorado School of Public Health. "In fact, our study is now being looked at as a model nationwide."

In 2009, the Colorado School of Public Health was contracted by Garfield County to conduct a assessment of 200 proposed natural gas wells in the community of Battlement Mesa.

The team found that the natural gas project could contribute to health effects such as headaches, upper respiratory illness, nausea and nosebleeds and a possible small increase in lifetime cancer risks as a result of air emissions.

The project would also increase safety risks and mental health effects due to traffic and community changes associated with the industrial activity.

According to the study, the HIA offers a roadmap for other communities and industry to follow in determining the health impacts of gas drilling. It also develops recommendations to reduce those impacts.

"We believe we accomplished the important objective of elevating public health into many levels of natural gas policy discussion," the study said. "The Battlement Mesa HIA provides substantial and valuable guidance for local decision makers to protect public health."

At the same time, the industry can use HIA findings to identify and eliminate health issues before they become problems.

"The whole goal is to provide recommendations to reduce impacts before you start," Witter said. "The assessment is a means to an end. It's a critical tool."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US health experts seek more study on 'fracking'

Jan 09, 2012

A group of US medical professionals called Monday for a halt to a type of drilling for natural gas called "fracking" in populated areas until more is known about its health impacts.

Recommended for you

Medicare hospital fund to last 4 years longer

45 minutes ago

(AP)—The government says Medicare's finances have improved. The program's hospital trust fund won't be exhausted until 2030—four years later than last year's estimate.

Green spaces found to increase birth weight

1 hour ago

Mothers who live near green spaces deliver babies with significantly higher birth weights, according to a new study, "Green Spaces and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes" published in the journal, Occupational and Environmental Me ...

Gender inequalities in health: A matter of policies

5 hours ago

A new study of the European project SOPHIE has evaluated the relationship between the type of family policies and gender inequalities in health in Europe. The results show that countries with traditional family policies (central ...

User comments