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Environmental Health is one of the topics given priority in the recently published National Environment Policy consultation document. OUTLOOK explores what the issues the proposed policy seeks to address when it comes to the delicate interaction between human health and the environment.
Our health, and the state of our surrounding environment are heavily intertwined. The state of our island’s environment is essential to the quality of life that we can enjoy and as such, it is essential that stakeholders strive to protect the environment, both for its own sake but also for its contribution to our wellbeing and that of future generations.
And that is exactly what the NEP intends to do. The draft policy consists of a concrete action plan on how potentially health-threatening factors such as poor air quality, noise and chemical pollution, or radiation in the environment, could be minimised or else completely eradicated.
Malta’s principal environmental health challenges are respiratory diseases that may be related to air pollution, particularly road traffic emissions . Monitoring results show that Malta’s national air quality meets those set by EU standards. However these reports indicate that certain areas experiencing high traffic, such as Msida, Sliema, Floriana and Fgura are a cause for concern and require intense monitoring.
The policy therefore calls for a number of initiatives to help safeguard air quality and these efforts go beyond simply keeping Malta in line with local and international obligations. Measures to secure this effort recognise the need of encouraging the use of the newly reformed public transport system as well as the use of cleaner fuel and more environmentally-friendly vehicles.
Management of rain water and how this may affect traffic are also being strongly considered. Over and above all this, the Government promises to take an active stance in assessing its own transport footprint and therefore reducing its impact on the environment.
The presence of chemicals in the environment, as increasingly detected in human blood, breast milk and amniotic fluid is also a growing concern. In this regard the policy’s strategy will continue to monitor the environment and take a pro-active role in ensuring mitigation or relocation of activities or chemicals that pose significant risk to the public. Industries that discharge chemicals directly into the environment such as those in the coastal or agriculture sector will have to face related enforcement.
As regards noise pollution, it appears that approximately 20 per cent of the EU’s population is forced to endure noise levels that are considered unacceptable, and there is as yet little public awareness of its effect on human health.  The majority of noise complaints in Malta originate from neighbourhood noise, therefore the policy urges the review and consolidation of existing legislation, which would then lead to the introduction of objective noise standards.
Health impact assessments will be adopted in order to ensure that all government policies, plans and projects take into consideration the above hazards and therefore reflect a holistic health attitude towards the environment.
The full policy document can be downloaded from