The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) will be conducting a health impact assessment (HIA) to look at the potential health impacts of proposed infrastructure improvements in Vinton, Texas. UTEP received a grant of $75,000 from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts based in Washington, D.C., to conduct the assessment. The project will be a collaborative effort with the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Village of Vinton.
An HIA helps identify and address the health benefits and risks of a decision in a non-health sector regarding infrastructure improvements and/or policy changes. In this case, the Vinton Village Council has voted proposed water and sanitation projects down based on high costs. The health impact assessment will add new information regarding the public health impacts of the proposed infrastructure improvements. Vinton residents currently rely on several water systems including private wells for water, and domestic septic tanks for sanitation. The proposed improvements could reduce risks of gastrointestinal diseases, especially for children. The HIA will consider exposure to a range of contaminants in current water supplies and the hazards of poorly functioning waste management systems.
“Healthy environments contribute to healthy people, and clean water and proper waste management are fundamental to good public health,” said Bill Hargrove, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Resource Management (CERM) at UTEP.
“This HIA will not only inform the community of Vinton, but will establish a process for informed decision making in the Paso del Norte region,” said Marcelo Korc, Ph.D., adviser with PAHO.
BECC plans to use an HIA process for many of their environmental infrastructure projects.
The assessment team will utilize community-based participatory research methods, which means they will draw heavily on information and perceptions of community members and leaders in Vinton. Their input will be gathered through surveys, interviews, focus groups and public meetings.
The HIA will be led by CERM and the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Research and Evaluation (CIHRE) in the College of Health Sciences at UTEP. Students from UTEP will participate in the field research activities and also learn how to conduct HIAs.
The Health Impact Project, which awarded the grant to UTEP, is dedicated to promoting the use of health impact assessments in the United States. More information, including a searchable map of HIA activity in the United States, is available at www.healthimpactproject.org.