California Environmental Protection Agency Releases Statewide Pollutant Mapping Tool

On April 23, 2013, the California Environmental Protection agency released its California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool, or CalEnviroScreen. This mapping tool was developed jointly by CalEPA and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) “for evaluating multiple pollutants and stressors in communities.” The mapping tool is intended as the next step in implementation of CalEPA’s 2004 Environmental Justice Action Plan, which called for guidance on the analysis of multiple pollution sources and their impacts on California communities.

The mapping tool tracks, by zip code, how various communities are affected by eleven types of pollution and environmental factors such as pesticides, heavy vehicle emissions, hazardous waste, and other toxic factors. The mapping also takes into account overall community health based on seven population and socioeconomic factors such as residents living below the poverty line, average education levels, and occurrences of asthma within the populations. Together, these factors allow the CalEPA to address issues concerning environmental justice, or “the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

The mapping will affect how state funding for environmental improvement projects is directed towards different communities. State law requires that twenty-five percent of proceeds from greenhouse gas cap-and-trade auctions be invested in projects that benefit disadvantaged communities. Despite providing an important first-step in identifying highly impacted communities, the CalEPA press release warns that the mapping tool has some limitations. First, it is not directly applicable to analysis of cumulative impacts required by CEQA because it compares the relative burdens on communities but does not provide an absolute measure of those burdens. Second, the tool is not a substitute for a formal risk assessment measuring health concerns for the same reason.

The CalEPA indicates that the tool will undergo future revisions and will include additional factors, such as water quality information and other census information. The CalEnviroScreen version 1.0 was released after the circulation of two public review drafts, 12 public workshops, and more than 1,000 public comments and questions. The report is available at: [John Wheat]