Comparative Population Health Status Study of a Semi-Rural Irish Community Before and After Licensing of a Waste Incinerator

Report for the STRIVE-funded project: 2007-EH-MS-51

Summary: STRIVE Report 46 - Valerie de Souza, Jean Saunders, Nick Kenny and Tessa Greally

Published: 2010

ISBN: 978-1-84095-341-1

Pages: 83

Filesize: 1,769 KB

Format: pdf


This report presents the results of a study commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and undertaken by the Health Service Executive (HSE) West (Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary) between April 2007 and September 2008. The purpose of this study was to compare the health status of the populations of two regions of County Clare (Clarecastle and Ennistymon) with health status which was determined as part of a separate study completed in 1996.

At the time the baseline data were being collected, a licence to operate a waste incinerator was granted to a pharmaceutical factory in Clarecastle, amid local health concerns. This study was designed to reassess the self-reported health status of the residents of Clarecastle to determine if this has been altered in the decade that the incinerator has been operational. Ennistymon was also included in the original study and acted as a control region for this study.

This report reviews the evidence of the health effects of living in proximity to an incinerator, reports significant findings from the health status comparison and summarises routinely collected environmental data from both areas since 1996 in order to provide some ‘environmental context’ to the study and highlight potential explanations for findings

Overall, the results of this study show very few differences in self-reported health status either between the two areas studied or between the original and current study, despite substantial changes in educational and fertility patterns which have taken place in the intervening period and a large increase in population in the Clarecastle area possibly as a result of economic development. Although environmental information for the overall period was viewed as limited, particularly in respect of the early years (pre- 2001), the data sets available suggested that the two towns did not differ significantly in terms of environmental quality that would be likely to cause an impact on public health during the years 1996–2007.

Significant improvements were evident in two of the eight domains of the SF-36 score (reduction of bodily pain and improvement in general health) over the 11-to 12-year interval in each area; decreased vitality was the only significant negative health difference between the 1996 and current data shown in both areas while Ennistymon demonstrated a significant reduction in the mental health score. No significant decrease in health status between 1996 and the current study, which was exclusive to the Clarecastle area, could be identified. (Ennistymon was the control for both studies.)

The only two areas where data showed Clarecastle to have reduced health status compared with Ennistymon were with respect to respiratory symptoms and environmental concern; however, overall environmental concern levels reduced significantly in the Clarecastle area between 1996 and 2007. The differences in respiratory symptoms recorded did not reach significance and the differences in the median respiratory score between the two areas equate to an average symptom score difference of just one per person. This small difference is reflected in the component physical score which shows no difference between Ennistymon and Clarecastle.