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German medical association debates health in energy transition

HEAL co-hosted an expert seminar on health in the German energy transition, together with the German Medical Association (Bundesärztekammer), the largest doctors network in Germany; and the German Society of Hygiene, Environmental and Public Health Sciences (GHUP).

On 8 October in Berlin, about 50 experts from among medical chambers, public health entities, scientific institutions and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) met to discuss health risks and prevention opportunities related to fracking, wind turbines, coal power generation and electricity grid expansion. The expert seminar was designed to kick off a discussion on the potential of these technology options to either contribute to prevention efforts, or in posing additional health risks for the population. The German Medical Association is the largest doctors association in Germany, representing over 470.000 doctors. Their members are increasingly being asked to give advice and expertise on local energy questions.

Health aspects of the German energy transition have not been addressed systematically - neither the health gains from moving to low-carbon energy sources nor possible health risks of new and emerging energy technologies. The German energy transition is often described as a role model for transitioning to a clean energy future, however, at the same time Germany is the biggest coal consumer in Europe.

Many citizens’ initiatives in Germany have formed around local energy infrastructure plans, often based on health concerns. Local physicians play an important role in communicating on the risks of energy. Yet, physicians often don’t have enough resources at hand to form a health expert opinion on different technological alternatives.

This is why HEAL was happy to join forces for this kick-off meeting to systematically address energy and health concerns. Training, exchanges and discussions about the health risks and prevention opportunities associated with different forms of energy are a key way to ensure that health considerations are taken into account. Many examples from Europe and around the world exist, for example the expertise the US-led Physicians for Social Responsibility have provided on coal power plants, or the work of the European Respiratory Society, one of HEAL’s members on domestic wood burning.

Educational materials needed on health risks of energy choices

During the seminar, many participants stressed the need to develop educational resources which summarise the scientific understanding on established health risks of the various energy forms, the preventive effects of safety regulations, as well as potential effects on health for which there is yet insufficient evidence.

The health risks associated with particulate matter pollution from coal-fired power plants as an existing energy technology are already very well understood, while fracking poses many new concerns about health and environmental impacts, for example for groundwater or air emissions. Noise emissions of wind turbines were discussed with regard to the importance of public participation and economic benefit sharing for mitigating reported health effects.

Many participants stressed the importance to apply the existing knowledge in decision-making on energy, but concluded that there was still a large need for discussion, exchange and training. HEAL thinks it is particularly important to develop comparative health cost and benefits assessments for existing and new energy technologies, and hopes to organise further events in 2015 to shed light on energy and health concerns.

Last updated on 22 October 2014

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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