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."

Related Stories

US health experts seek more study on 'fracking'

date 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

WHO says too few countries taxing tobacco products enough

date 2 hours ago

Taxing cigarettes up to 75 percent of their retail price is among the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, but too few governments levy high enough taxes, according to a World Health Organization global report released ...

Can four fish oil pills a day keep the doctor away?

date 3 hours ago

Fish oil is one of the most popular dietary supplements in the U.S. because of the perceived cardiovascular benefits of the omega-3 it contains. However, scientific findings on its effectiveness have been conflicting. New ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.