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HIA Topics

Environmental Health

Environmental health is a field within public health that is concerned with parts of the physical world that affect human health. Examples of environmental conditions that determine health include air pollution, the quality of local parks, and walkable neighborhoods, to name a few.

The HSR System has the potential to affect both air emissions and exposures. While there may be regional decreases in air emissions, exposures, in particular, will depend on local conditions and migration patterns. Among the emissions associated with any major construction project, a local concern is occupational exposure to coccidiodomycosis (“Valley Fever”), a dust-borne fungus found in soils in the San Joaquin Valley that can be inhaled, causing serious disease in susceptible individuals.

Noise from high speed trains has been a highly contentious issue around the world for high speed rail systems. Excess noise in general has been linked to stress, mental health, outdoor physical activity, hearing impairment/loss, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular disease (hypertension, myocardial infarction, etc.), and impairment of speech, communication, learning and educational performance.

Improved technologies have succeeded in reducing some noise emissions from high-speed trains, but persistent noise means that control efforts need to focus on reducing exposure. Effective control measures include separating residential areas from the HSR alignment, routing the HSR underground or behind sound berms, orienting the windows of new buildings away from the HSR and installing sound insulation.

Water is a critical resource for human health, agriculture and many commercial activities. California’s recent drought has brought increased awareness of the value of water. Run-off from construction sites contaminating surface waters is a concern, but can be easily prevented. While construction and operation of the HSR may have few direct effects on water quality or availability, limited supplies of water may shape some of the HSR System’s health-related impacts. For example, local limits on the availability of water or policies capping water use (e.g. California Senate Bill 610, 2002) may limit new development, particularly outside of urban centers. Since many of the housing and economic effects of the HSR are contingent on new development, limited water availability could dampen these effects.

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