The Red Dog Mine, in remote northwest Alaska, is the world’s largest producer of zinc. The company proposed an expansion of the mine. In evaluating this request, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that it would be necessary to do an environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess the impact of the proposed activities on the environment and people of the region. The region’s tribal nonprofit health services provider, Maniilaq Association, represented local Alaska Native villages as a cooperating agency on this EIS. Maniilaq Association completed the HIA in collaboration with experts from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The HIA noted that, overall, there would be few major new impacts from the proposed expansion and many of the impacts from the mine had already come to pass. The HIA addressed a number of health concerns, such as the potential for contamination of the local water supply and wild foods (caribou, fish and berries); exposure to airborne dust containing heavy metals; the loss of income, employment and community revenues generated by the mine if the mine were to close; and the implications for local services, such as education, water and sanitation. The HIA recommended: 1) additional monitoring for specific contaminants in caribou; and 2) the formation of a health advisory council—with members from industry, the community and public health agencies—to address any concerns that might arise during operation of the mine in the future.
This HIA was one of the first conducted in Alaska, and the first in which a tribal non-profit health department represented tribal governments as a cooperating agency in an EIS. The HIA was incorporated as a chapter on “public health” in the draft and final environmental impact statements. By establishing a precedent for incorporating HIAs in EISs, it had an important impact on EIS practice in Alaska and beyond. Since this HIA was completed, it has become increasingly common for environmental impact statements to include public health analyses, and as of 2013, the EPA was involved in conducting several HIAs. In Alaska, the collaboration between tribal, state, and federal health and environmental officials led ultimately to the formation of the state of Alaska’s HIA program—a result that reflects but extends beyond the local focus of the recommendation for a public health advisory council. The EPA’s Record of Decision for the proposed mine expansion allowed the mine expansion to proceed by reissuing a water discharge permit for the mine. For the recommended caribou monitoring, EPA lacked authority to require monitoring, but recommended that the mining company voluntarily include this monitoring in their ongoing scientific studies, and according to the Record of Decision, the company agreed to do so.
This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.