The Role of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) in Decisions that Affect Communities: A Case Study of Proposed Coal Mining in the Matanuska Valley

September 29, 2011
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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CHE-Alaska hosted a one-hour discussion on health impact assessments (HIAs). Environmental impact assessments, required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) typically focus on impacts to plants and animals, with less thorough assessment of the human health impacts of a proposed development project. A health impact assessment (HIA) is a process that uses scientific evaluation, professional expertise and stakeholder input to study health effects.

The National Academy of Sciences recently endorsed the inclusion of HIAs as important in environmental review. Health impact assessments have been used internationally and are gaining traction in some states, including Alaska, as a voluntary process for assessing health effects among potentially affected communities. Alaska is seen by some as a leader in developing HIAs. In 2007, a health assessment was done under NEPA for the first time to assess the health implications of oil and gas development on the North Slope. The State of Alaska is working on a "rapid assessment" HIA for the Wishbone Hill Coal project.

Participants on this call learned about

  • The need for comprehensive health impact assessments in policy decisions
  • Opportunities and limitations of health impact assessments as a process for evaluating development projects
  • Status of the Wishbone Hill coal project HIA
  • A community perspective and concerns about HIAs

Featured Speakers

Shawna Larson, Alaska Program Co-Director, Pacific Environment. Shawna is Ahtna Athabascan from Chickaloon Village on her father’s side, and Supiaq from the village of Port Graham on her mother’s side. Shawna’s previous experience includes spending nine years with Alaska Community Action on Toxics working on the Stockholm Convention, which is an international treaty that focuses on banning some of the world’s most toxic chemicals, also known as Persistent Organic Pollutants. She served four years on the Chickaloon Village Traditional Tribal Council and was selected by the Utne Reader magazine as a young visionary. She has worked extensively in community organizing at an international, national and local level.

Liz Snyder, Assistant Professor of Public Health in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She holds a masters in global environmental health from Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia and a PhD in soil and water science from University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.   Her research background is in risk assessment. Her areas of interest include health impact assessments (HIAs), fate and transport of soil/water contaminants, environmental health, environmental justice, wastewater treatment and waste management, and emerging contaminants of concern.