Despite the landmark victory in 1994 in which President Clinton signed an Executive Order directing every federal agency to identify and rectify “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations,” disparities in health status by race and income persist and were identified as a top public health priority in Healthy People 2010. While these disparities have many different causes, it is probable that differences in exposure to environmental hazards play an important role. A major challenge faced by policy makers—who have historically taken a facility-by-facility, chemical-by-chemical approach to regulation—is the lack of a methodology to assess the cumulative impact of environmental hazards in a more holistic way, and one that also addresses the patterns of environmental inequality.
The Environmental Justice Screening Method (EJSM), which is being jointly developed by Manuel Pastor, Jim Sadd, and Rachel Morello-Frosch, seeks to meet this challenge. It is a relatively simple, flexible and transparent mapping and a scoring procedure to examine cumulative impacts and social vulnerability within regions for use in citing, zoning, and policy development processes as well as to identify overburdened communities. An initial version of it was created for the California Air Resources Board and assesses cumulative impact along three dimensions: hazard proximity and land use, air pollution exposure and estimated health risk, and social and health vulnerability. Continued work on the EJSM seeks to update the results with new releases of underlying indicators, expand coverage to more of California’s regions, and to incorporate new indicators including climate and climate change vulnerability.
By Manuel Pastor, Rachel Morello-Frosch, and Jim Sadd
Whether it’s proximity to mobile and stationary emission sources, poor ambient air quality, or the relationship between air toxics and student demographics at the school site, researchers studying issues of environmental justice in California have generally found consistent evidence of significant disparities in exposure by racial and socioeconomic factors (including indicators like income, rates of home ownership, and linguistic isolation), even after controlling for land use and other explanatory factors.
This article appears in the August 2013 issue of EM Magazine, a publication of the Air & Waste Management Association (A&WMA; www.awma.org). To obtain copies and reprints, please contact A&WMA directly at 1-412-232-3444.
“Playing It Safe: Assessing Cumulative Impact and Social Vulnerability through an Environmental Justice Screening Method in the South Coast Air Basin, California”