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Health impact report available to public comment

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Author Staff | Publish Date September 20, 2010

Researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health along with Garfield County authorities are inviting the public to comment on  a new report that assesses the potential health impact of natural gas development and production.  Commissioned by the Garfield County Board of Commissioners, the Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment (HIA) was prepared by a team of environmental and public health experts from the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
The project, which is led by Roxana Witter, MD, MS, MSPH, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, was commissioned in order to assist the Garfield County Board of Commissioners and Garfield County Public Health Department in addressing community concerns in a region with significant natural gas resources.

The report is available on the County website and is open for public comment through Oct. 20, 2010.  At that time, the Colorado School of Public Health team will review comments and prepare a final HIA report for the Garfield County Board of Commissioners, to be released on Nov.15, 2010.

The Battlement Mesa HIA systematically examined currently available information regarding environmental, social and health status of this community. The team of researchers, which includes experts in public health, epidemiology, environmental health, exposure assessment, and environmental medicine, used this information, as well as the scientific literature, to estimate the potential health impact of natural gas development in Battlement Mesa.

“We are pleased to have provided the County with information that can help clarify how natural gas development is related to community health and safety,” said Witter, the project leader.  “This approach is intended to complement the important efforts of the Garfield County Public Health Department, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, industry, and other stakeholders in protecting the health of this community.”

The HIA takes into account a wide variety of potential impacts, including:

  • Impacts of on air, water and soil
  • Impacts on traffic patterns
  • Economic and social effects

The report goes on to suggest potential ways in which Garfield County may be able to reduce health risks for the community and maximize the benefits that natural gas development can bring to a county.  The recommendations fall into three main categories, which are:

  • Promote Pollution Prevention
  • Protect Public Safety
  • Address Boomtown Effects

In addition to recommendations regarding health and safety, the report identifies some of the major information gaps that should be filled in order to help the County take health impacts into consideration as part of its decision-making.

Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a public health tool for helping to maintain or improve the health of communities. It’s an emerging approach to using available information to help inform decision-making. This approach has rarely been applied to natural gas development and production, which have generally focused on environmental impact more than human health impact.

“By requesting and supporting this HIA the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners has been proactive in its efforts to protect its citizens,” said Witter. “Now that the report is available for public comment, we look forward to receiving further input. We have been grateful for the level of stakeholder involvement that we have had over the past nine months of assessment, and welcome additional comment,” she said.