Integrating Human Health into Environmental Impact Assessment: An Unrealized Opportunity for Environmental Health and Justice

By Bhatia, Rajiv; Wernham, Aaron | Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Integrating Human Health into Environmental Impact Assessment: An Unrealized Opportunity for Environmental Health and Justice


Bhatia, Rajiv, Wernham, Aaron, Environmental Health Perspectives


OBJECTIVES: The National Environmental Policy Act and related state laws require many public agencies to analyze and disclose potentially significant environmental effects of agency actions, including effects on human health. In this paper we review the purpose and procedures of environmental impact assessment (ElA), existing regulatory requirements for health effects analysis, and potential barriers to and opportunities for improving improving integration of human health concerns within the EIA process.

DATA SOURCES: We use statutes, regulations, guidelines, court opinions, and empirical research on EIA along with recent case examples of integrated health impact assessment (H1A)/EIA at both the state and federal level.

DATA SYNTHESIS: We extract lessons and recommendations for integrated HIA/EIA practice from both existing practices as well as case studies.

CONCLUSIONS: The case studies demonstrate the adequacy, scope, and power of existing statutory requirements for health analysis within EIA. The following support the success of integrated HIA/EIA: a proponent recognizing EIA as an available regulatory strategy for public health; the openness of the agency conducting the EIA; involvement of public health institutions; and complementary objectives among community stakeholders and health institutions; and complementary objectives among community stakeholders and health practitioners. We recommend greater collaboration among institutions responsible for EIA, public health institutions, and affected stakeholders along with guidance, resources, and training for integrated HIA/EIA practice.

KEY WORDS: environmental health, environmental impact assessment, environmental justice, health determinants, health disparities, health impact assessment, public policy, social justice. Environ Health Perspect 116:991-1000 (2008). doi:10. 1289/ehp. 11132 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 16 April 2008]

A major achievement of the emerging environmental movement in the United States, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) established a foundation for environmental policy in the United States. This far-reaching legislation required that any "major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment" must undergo an evaluation and public disclosure of its environmental effects (NEPA 1969). To accomplish this mandate, NEPA institutionalized the now-ubiquitous environmental impact statement (EIS).

For almost four decades, NEPA has been a powerful and influential tool for environmental protection [Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) 1997a]. At least 19 states or territories have now enacted statutes requiring some form of environmental impact assessment (E1A). NEPA applies to a striking range of activity including, for example, highways and other transit projects and programs, natural resource leasing and extraction, industrial farming and policies governing genetically modified crops, and large-scale urban redevelopment projects. Every executive branch federal agency uses the NEPA process. More than 500 federal programs undergo an EIS annually, and thousands more are evaluated using a similar but less-detailed process termed "environmental assessment." State statutes such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) capture a still wider range of activity, often including smaller-scale development projects as well as state programs for natural resources management and public infrastructure development.

Projects, policies, and programs subject to EIA influence not only environmental quality but also industry and employment patterns, regional economies, the built environment, social organization, and culture--important determinants of health and well-being. Viewed collectively, the range of activity subject to state of federal EIA exerts a profound influence on health in communities across the United States.

The protection of human health and welfare figures prominently in the objectives and regulations of NEPA (CEQ 1978; NEPA 1969). …

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