Document Type: Original Article
Menzies Centre for Health Policy, Sydney, NSW, Australia
School of Public Health, and Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Planning, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Population Health, South Western Sydney Local Health District, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Southgate Institute for Health, Society, and Equity, Flinders University, Bedford Park, SA, Australia
Transport policy and practice impacts health. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are regulated public policy mechanisms that can be used to consider the health impacts of major transport projects before they are approved. The way health is considered in these environmental assessments (EAs) is not well known. This research asked: How and to what extent was human health considered in EAs of four major transport projects in Australia.
We developed a comprehensive coding framework to analyse the Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) of four transport infrastructure projects: three road and one light rail. The coding framework was designed to capture how health was directly and indirectly included.
We found that health was partially considered in all four EISs. In the three New South Wales (NSW) projects, but not the one South Australian project, this was influenced by the requirements issued to proponents by the government which directed the content of the EIS. Health was assessed using human health risk assessment (HHRA). We found this to be narrow in focus and revealed a need for a broader social determinants of health approach, using multiple methods. The road assessments emphasised air quality and noise risks, concluding these were minimal or predicted to improve. The South Australian project was the only road project not to include health data explicitly. The light rail EIS considered the health benefits of the project whereas the others focused on risk. Only one project considered mental health, although in less detail than air quality or noise.
Our findings suggest EIAs lag behind the known evidence linking transport infrastructure to health. If health is to be comprehensively included, a more complete model of health is required, as well as a shift away from health risk assessment as the main method used. This needs to be mandatory for all significant developments. We also found that considering health only at the EIA stage may be a significant limitation, and there is a need for health issues to be considered when earlier, fundamental decisions about the project are being made.