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A state-of-practice survey of health and environmental assessment in the Canadian north



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The need to strengthen the role of environmental and health considerations in decision-making processes is increasingly recognized by the Canadian government and industry-based organizations. Integrating human health into environmental assessments (EAs) at the earliest stage is critical for identifying and managing potentially adverse effects. The World Health Organization states “health depends on our ability to understand and manage the interaction between human activities and the physical and biological environment. We have the knowledge for this but have failed to act on it”. In light of this shortfall, the primary objectives of this research are to evaluate the scope of health within EA, and to evaluate the state-of-practice with regard to the incorporation of human health impacts into the EA process within Canada’s Northern natural resource sector. The adopted methodology combines both a mail-out questionnaire survey of practitioner and administrator experiences with EA across the North, as well as semi-structured interviews with health professionals. The results confirm the importance of human health integration in northern EA; however, in practice, ‘human health’ or ‘human health impacts’ are receiving inconsistent and superficial treatment with very little agreement as to the scope of health issues in EA. Project-based assessments are often limited to the investigation of the biophysical impacts and neglect to consider the social and cultural effects, and broader determinants of health. In cases where broader social health issues are addressed, attention seems to be limited to those impacts for which the proponents have direct control over, notably employment and business opportunities. Subsequently, the performance of northern EAs is often less than satisfactory, and improvements are required in the EA process to correct this. Barriers to effective integration were found to include an incomplete understanding of the scope of health in EA; difficulties identifying causal links between project actions, environmental change and human health; the absence of standardized procedures; as well as economic and temporal barriers. Adapting the EA process to the specific needs of the North, including local culture and customs, and diverse knowledge systems is therefore necessary for EA practice to be successful. The research results contribute to a larger project to increase the understanding and effectiveness of health and EA systems, with specific attention on the Canadian North.



Environmental Assessment, human health, northern development



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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