Field: Sustainable living
Global Technical function: Managing
Technical Function Unit: Software tool
Geographic Area: United Kingdom

HEIMTSA

In the last decades environmental health problems have been becoming more and more complex. This is due to two main factors: the development of new and powerful technologies able to deeply affect the environment and the globalisation effect, which makes environmental problems overcoming local frontiers. 

Thus, considering health risks as a systemic problem for sustainable living achievement, policy makers have been progressively aware of the necessity of changing risk management. New tools for assessing and managing risk must take into account their multiple causes and outcomes, and consider the interest and needs of affected stakeholders. Traditional methods of risk assessment, such as setting limit values for emissions or establishing environmental targets and standards, are completely implemented and work relatively well, but they are not able to deal with complex inter-relationships and dynamic behaviours. Health impact assessment (HIA), which doesn’t focus on harmful agents or events but on policies, is an alternative way, but current methods are too local and limited in scope.

At European Union level the Environment and Health Action Plan (EHAP) was conceived for achieving reliable information about the impact that environmental damage exerts on citizens’ health. Several projects have been funded by the European Union, such as INTARESE or HEIMTSA projects. This last (full title: Health and Environment Integrated Methodology and Toolbox for Scenario Assessment) aimed to developed a new methodology for evaluating the effects of policy scenarios on both environmental and health impacts. 22 Research Institutes and Universities, led by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (United Kingdom), worked together for extending health impact assessment (HIA) and cost benefit analysis (CBA) methods to environmental and health impact assessment. The project ended in January 2011 and was funded under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

The first activities of the project have reviewed the state-of-the-art and have developed new methods on integrated environmental health impact assessment (IEHIA). Development of specific methods was validated in parallel with case studies, because some issues were found to be easier solved when the methods were applied to specific problems. First case studies dealt with pollutants rather than policies, and carried out a selection of compounds known to have great impact on health (particulate matter, ozone, noise, etc.). These case studies drew useful lessons towards the development of a comprehensive methodology for health risk assessment. Thus, this knowledge has been implemented in a computational toolbox, called
Integrated Environmental Health Impact Assessment (IEHIA) System . This system was tested through a common case study which was carried out along within the aforementioned project (Integrated Assessment of Health Risks of Environmental Stressors in Europe). This case dealt with the side-effects of Climate Change Policies on environmental stressors and health impact. Within this case study, two scenarios have been compared in three future years (2020, 2030 and 2050): a Business As Usual scenario and a scenario where Climate Policy focuses on limiting the surface temperature increase to 2°C.

The IEHIA System has been integrated in a virtual toolbox. This web-based software tool was intended to provide users with information about environmental health impact assessment. The System conveys the methods developed and enhanced in both projects, and includes additional resources such as models, tools, examples and assessment reports. This huge amount of information is structured to be adapted to the main three stakeholders interested in the system: policy makers, assessors and students. This System has been thoroughly tested and evaluated with data corresponding to real environmental problems, so its technology readiness level can be estimated to be 9 on the TRL scale.