California gets first-ever statewide pollution screening tool

SACRAMENTO
April 23, 2013 12:10pm
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•  Identifies communities most burdened by multiple pollutants

•  “We have a better understanding of where to prioritize our limited resources”

Example of one of the maps in the report

What it is calling the nation’s first comprehensive statewide environmental health screening tool is being released Tuesday by the California Environmental Protection Agency.

While its name doesn’t quite roll off the lips, the “CalEnviroScreen 1.0” is a science-based tool that identifies the California communities most burdened by pollution from multiple sources and most vulnerable to its effects.

“By identifying communities across the state that are burdened by environmental and health issues, we have a better understanding of where to prioritize our limited resources,” says Cal/EPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez. “Promoting their environmental health also is an important step in restoring their economic vitality.”

Developed jointly by Cal EPA and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the tool uses data about 11 types of pollution and environmental factors and seven population characteristics and socioeconomic factors to create scores for each ZIP code in the state. It will help state decision-makers prioritize resources to target grants, investments, cleanup efforts, and enforcement actions to the state’s most disadvantaged communities, the state says.

“Rather than addressing each pollutant separately, CalEnviroScreen helps scientists and regulators look at multiple pollutants and factors at once,” says OEHHA Director George Alexeeff.

Every major region of the state except the rural North has some communities that ranked among the highest 10 percent for combined burdens and vulnerabilities from pollution, other environmental factors and population characteristics. The San Joaquin Valley contains 29 percent of the most vulnerable communities while about half of the ZIP codes that ranked in the top 10 percent are in the greater Los Angeles area, including the Inland Empire.

“This is a crucial first step toward bringing desperately needed investment to some of California’s most polluted and economically struggling neighborhoods,” says Ryan Young of the Greenlining Institute. “In the long run, you can't have a healthy economy without a healthy environment.”

The tool will first be used to identify disadvantaged communities for a state law that requires 25 percent of the proceeds from cap-and-trade auctions must be invested in projects that benefit these communities, including 10 percent for projects located in those areas.

Cal EPA says it plans to use it to administer its Environmental Justice Small Grant Program.

The tool will also help to prioritize resources for cleanup and abatement projects and outreach efforts by the Agency’s boards and departments.

The tool has some limitations, Cal EPA cautions. Its scoring results are not directly applicable to the cumulative impacts analysis required by the California Environmental Quality Act. It compares the relative burdens on each community but is not an absolute measure of those burdens. The tool is not a substitute for formal risk assessment and cannot predict whether burdens on a community are high enough to cause health concerns, it says.

CalEnviroScreen was developed through a public review process that included two public review drafts and 12 public workshops in seven regions of the state that yielded more than 1,000 comments and questions.

Drilldown

» Download the CalEnviroScreen report and maps at:  http://www.oehha.ca.gov/ej/

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