Integrating EIA and HIA to protect human health

22nd December 2014

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Lucy Candlin

MWH Global considers the implications of the revision of Article 3 of the EIA Directive, which introduces human health into the assessment criteria.

As environmental issues such as resource efficiency, biodiversity protection, climate change, risks of accidents and sustainability have become more important in policy making, so the need to review the EIA process and the EIA Directive, [] became more apparent. The European Commission’s stakeholder consultation to review the EIA process identified that 56% respondents believed that the EIA process required improvement. Until now, the directive had not significantly changed in 25 years.

The consultation process identified that EIA does not sufficiently cover the impact of developments on human health; and that the quality of life, health and wellbeing are not covered. It was noted that “health impact assessment (HIA) should be integrated with EIA, bringing a more positive health and sustainability approach to EIA, providing a means for communicating with communities, especially those who are less likely to respond to traditional forms of consultation…with the potential to reduce health inequalities”. Further comments suggested that EIA practitioners should include public health specialists, and that proper health coverage would support the importance of biodiversity, climate change and other assessments completed as part of the EIA process.

As well as the points above, 52% of respondents considered that synergies should
be improved between the EIA and other EU policies and directives, including, the Strategic Environmental Assessment, The IPPC Directive, The Habitats Directive, The Water Framework Directive, the REACH chemicals regulation and the Seveso Directive, which all consider the consequences of actions for human health as well as the environment.

The 2014 EIA Directive EU requires that an EIA “shall identify, describe and assess in an appropriate manner, in the light of each individual case, the direct and indirect significant effects of a project on human health”.

If HIA is to be considered as a tool in protecting or improving human health, then the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of HIA [] should be noted: “a combination of procedures, methods and tools by which a policy, programme or project may be judged as to its potential effects on the health of a population, and the distribution of those effects within the population”. (The WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

Salim Vohra in a 2005 paper cites six HIA models [] ; of these models, The Merseyside Guidelines for HIA [] note that the UK government is strongly committed to the principle of prospective HIA.

However, HIA remains a non-mandatory assessment; its integration into mainstream policymaking is still to be realised. This may result in a level of inconsistency, with some planning authorities requiring an HIA in addition to the EIA, while other planning authorities may not for similar projects; integrating HIA with EIA should remove such potential disparities.

Numerous papers have been written on the integration of HIA with EIA. In one, Vohra argues integrating HIA into EIA balances out the weaknesses of each approach to create a more robust assessment of the environmental and health impacts of a proposed development on a locality and its residents. Vohra also sees a further strength of HIA in that it is more likely to ensure that residents feel that their concerns have been listened to and adequately addressed using an approach that is sensitive to their perspectives and experiences.

In considering the implications of integrating HIA with EIA, Bhatia and Wernham in a 2008 article for Environmental Health Perspectives [] note that HIA views health holistically, considering not only biophysical health effects, but also broader social, economic, and environmental influences. It could be argued that with this extended scope, HIA may significantly increase the time and cost of the assessment process. However, Vohra suggests that in comparison to the total costs of a development, the costs of an integrated environmental and health impact assessment are small.
Clear guidance would be required in determining the extent and depth of an HIA. There may be potential to carry out the respective consultation processes concurrently as a means of streamlining the integrated approach.

Clearly, the complete and correct transposition of the 2014 EIA Directive into national legislation is essential to guarantee that its objectives of protecting human health and the environment are achieved. To this end the European Commission considers that explanatory documents are necessary to assist member states in the transposition. We now wait, with interest, to see if HIA, or a form of HIA, will become integrated with EIA in addressing the human health dimension in the directive.

MWH Global provides multidisciplinary services to businesses in wet infrastructure sectors.

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