National Environmental Health Survey and Health Impact Surveys

The Ministry of Environment has been carrying out the Korean National Environmental Health Survey to systematically and continuously investigate the distribution and influencing factors of people’s level of exposure to hazardous pollutants and use the data as basic information for environmental health policies. The survey, implemented since 2005, has been systematically organized by specifying legal grounds in the Environment Conservation Act as of 2009 and formulating and executing three-year plans.

The Stage 1 survey took place for three years from 2009 to 2011, and samples were designed by considering national representativeness and factors associated with exposure to environmental pollution based on the enumeration districts of the Population and Housing Census of Statistics Korea. A total of 350 enumeration districts were extracted, including standard areas, areas equipped with an air monitoring network, and coastal regions, with 6,000 adults completing a questionnaire together with the analysis of blood and urine levels of 16 environmentally harmful substances. The Stage 2 survey has been taking place from 2012 to 2014. It involves a 142-item questionnaire, 19 clinical tests, and biomonitoring of 21 types of environmentally harmful substances.

Separate health impact surveys are carried out for pregnant women, children, older adults, and other sensitive populations. The main examples are the “Maternal and Infant Health Impact Survey,” “Children and Young Adults’ Health Impact Survey,” and “Senior Population Health Impact Survey” regarding exposure to environmentally harmful substances. Implemented since 2006, the Maternal and Infant Health Impact Survey has traced and monitored pregnant women’s (fetal) and infants’ exposure levels to heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, volatile organic compounds, and other environmentally harmful substances and infant health impacts (growth/cognitive development disorders, atopic dermatitis, asthma, etc.) according to the stage of infant growth. The results confirmed that bodily concentrations of hazardous substances according to the pregnant women’s living environments and breastfeeding decisions can affect children’s weight and neural and cognitive development.

Recent efforts have focused on formulating systematic policies to reduce exposure to environmental pollution during growth to protect infants and children, populations that are particularly sensitive to environmental pollution. To obtain the basic data, a large birth cohort on infants and children has been in development since 2013 through a planned study titled “Design and Infrastructure Construction for Children’s Environmental Health Research.”

Health impact surveys have also been carried out on vulnerable populations in the surroundings of abandoned mines and industrial complexes. Detailed resident health impact surveys were conducted regarding 17 abandoned metal mines from 2005 to 2007, and detailed investigations and follow-up measures have been implemented since 2008 for residents who have exceeded heavy metal limits. A preliminary health impact survey was also conducted in 2007 on 401 abandoned metal mines that have exceeded soil contamination limits and therefore cause concerns over health impacts. The results of the preliminary survey identified 39 areas that required closer examination, and health impact surveys were completed in these areas in 2011. A long-term (20 year) health impact survey (cohort study) is being conducted for residents of industrial complexes with concerns regarding environmental diseases or high pollutant emissions. It began with the Ulsan Industrial Complex in 2003 and has currently been expanded to five industrial complexes.

Health Impact Assessment System

The Ministry of Environment has improved the previous environmental impact assessment system to operate a health impact assessment (HIA) system, which assesses impacts on human health in addition to environmental impacts prior to the implementation of a development project.

A basic database necessary for the development and evaluation of assessment techniques for each project type, including industrial complex construction and waste treatment facility installation, was established in 2006. A pilot project to create an assessment form was carried out from 2007 to 2009, and the HIA system was fully implemented in 2010 in accordance with the Environment Conservation Act. The HIA currently focuses on the air quality, water quality, and noise and vibration impacts from industrial complex development and factory construction projects of a certain scale or larger, thermal power plant installation, and installation of waste treatment facilities, excreta treatment facilities, and public livestock wastewater treatment facilities. The HIA system will be further developed by increasing the scope of target projects and evaluation items based on the results of system operation so far.

Protecting the Health of Children and Other Sensitive Populations

The Ministry of Environment focuses on reinforcing environmental services for children, older adults, low-income earners, and other populations that are vulnerable to health damage caused by environmental pollution. Children are particularly vulnerable to exposure to environmental pollution or chemical substances because they have a high metabolic rate per unit mass, their respiratory and reproductive organs are not fully developed, and they tend to put anything they can reach in their mouths. Accordingly, environment health policies are being implemented with a priority on protecting children’s health.

▶ Children’s Activity Spaces

Analyses of pollutant sources and risk assessments were carried out through environment monitoring during a two-year period, with investigations giving priority to children’s activity spaces with major hazard concerns, and control measures are being prepared based on the information obtained. The project began with children’s playgrounds in 2006 and has been expanded to include childcare facilities, schools, and school zones. Investigations and risk assessments have been completed for children’s playgrounds and control measures have been formulated accordingly.

In 2009, the Environment Health Act was amended to prepare environmental safety control standards regarding matters such as indoor air pollutants, heavy metals, and parasites in children’s activity spaces, making the facility owner or administrator responsible for controlling the hazards. Accordingly, since 2009 the government has been conducting an environmental safety diagnosis project on elementary schools, parks, daycare centers, and indoor and outdoor playgrounds that are subject to the environmental safety control standards. Any facility that is diagnosed with a problem or is inadequate is provided with eco-friendly paint and wallpaper, air handling units, air purifying plants, and CO2 sensors as part of an environmental improvement project.

▶ Children’s Products

Efforts are being made to identify environmental hazards contained in baby bottles, toys, and other objects that children frequently come into contact with and to minimize children’s exposure to hazards through children’s products. In order to achieve this, exposure and risk assessments are carried out regarding environmental hazards contained in children’s products and the sale of any product whose results reveal hazards may be restricted or suspended.

Since 2007, risk assessment techniques for children’s products have been established, and risk assessments are carried out on key substances and products. An announcement was made in 2009 specifying 135 types of environmental hazards contained in children’s products, regarding which risk assessments are carried out according to the subsequently formulated implementation plans. Transfer or content limits for children’s products are prescribed regarding substances whose risks are confirmed through the risk assessment, and limits were set for four substances in 2012. The “Project on Environmental Safety Diagnosis of Children’s Products” was also implemented, which involves collecting and examining children’s products that are available on the market.

Efforts are also being made to encourage manufacturers of children’s products and other associated business operators to engage in self-management to voluntarily reduce environmental hazards. The Environment Health Act was amended in 2011 to prepare legal grounds regarding the formulation and implementation of self-management plans by business operators, and the government became able to provide financial assistance to business operators engaging in self-management. A self-management guideline was distributed in 2012 and financial assistance has been provided since the end of 2012 to cover consultation and analysis costs for formulating self-management plans.

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Last modified : 2017-12-12 08:38

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