(This post originally appeared on EDF's Texas Clean Air Matters blog)
EPA is getting into the mapping game in a big way.
Just this week, they launched an environmental justice (EJ) mapping and screening tool called EJSCREEN, an online, publicly accessible index of environmental indicators based on location. It will be a tremendously helpful resource for the EJ movement.
In the past, concerned citizens, researchers, and advocates would access national databases individually without the ability to bring multiple sources of information together in one clear and consistent platform. EJSCREEN was created to address that issue. It’s a significant milestone that puts environmental and demographic data at your fingertips and empowers you to learn about your community.
One of the major advancements in EJSCREEN is the combination of environmental risk and social vulnerability information. This intersection defines a critical element of environmental justice: communities that are at elevated risk of exposure to harmful pollution are often home to the elderly, low-income families and other vulnerable populations. Much of EDF’s work focuses on this intersection, such as our environmental health efforts to improve air quality at and near ports and freight hubs. These areas can be pollution hotspots, and they are often close to communities of vulnerable populations.
EJSCREEN will help areas like port communities better understand how environmental and social issues overlap – and shows the information by map. The tool combines a set of demographic indicators and a set of environmental indicators into an “EJ Index.” There is one index per environmental indicator and the index for a particular area is compared to regional, state, and national averages. The tool produces a profile report and a map of a selected area that provides the comparative analysis of a community.
You can use EJSCREEN to visualize your neighborhood or city, or to develop a better understanding of a community that may be affected by environmental risks. Although EJSCREEN does feature a comparison of the selected area to the state and nation, the tool should not be used to define or qualify an environmental justice community. Rather, EJSCREEN is designed to promote a better understanding of the intersection between risk and vulnerability for potentially impacted communities.
Texas in particular will benefit from EJSCREEN as demographic shifts and significant industrial activity carry implications for environmental justice concerns. Houston, for example, is an incredibly diverse city with many sources of potential pollution hotspots. Area residents will be able to use the tool and better interpret environmental risks in the context of the local population.
EJSCREEN is a major advancement, but EPA is already thinking about what may come next for the tool. Right now, EPA wants you, the public, to use and explore this interim version and provide input ahead of the next release in early 2016. That version is set to include a vital dataset for understanding environmental risks: the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA). The inclusion of this valuable dataset on some of the most hazardous air pollutants will greatly enhance the ability of EJSCREEN to characterize the environmental risk faced by many communities.
The tool comes at an important time for EJ at EPA, as they are preparing to finalize their “EJ 2020” framework that will establish their plan for advancing environmental justice over the next five years. EPA is accepting public input on the draft framework through July 14.
EPA is democratizing data with EJSCREEN. The ability to draw in nationally consistent datasets on demographics and environmental risks and present accessible maps and reports will be a major benefit to communities of all types. EDF is excited to share in the enthusiasm for the release of the interim version of the tool and is looking forward to seeing an even better tool in the future. EJSCREEN can be accessed publically and freely at http://www2.epa.gov/ejscreen.
Image source: flickr/Cheryl