Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-awaited environmental justice tool EJSCREEN. EPA describes EJSCREEN as “a powerful environmental justice screening and mapping tool that uses high resolution maps combined with demographic and environmental data to identify places with potentially higher environmental burdens and vulnerable populations. ” You can try out EJSCREEN and offer comments to EPA at http://www2.epa.gov/ejscreen.
Behind the scenes, we have watched EJSCREEN develop for some time. The tool uses 12 environmental indicators and 6 demographic indicators to develop an “EJ index” for a given area. These EJ indexes place areas in a percentile relative to the rest of the country.
EJSCREEN comes with a slew of “caveats and limitations.” It is not a risk assessment tool and it does not include every indicator for every geographic area. In some cases the data is several years old. One sticking point for the release of EJSCREEN was the use of National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) data. This data was close to a decade old and rather than use it, EPA opted to release a beta version of EJSCREEN now and plan a full release later with updated NATA data.
Caveats and limitations aside, EJSCREEN promises to be a very powerful tool for understanding a community’s environmental and demographic profile. EPA is already using it when deciding whether and where to apply its limited resources in communities.
Some of us at Air Alliance Houston have already had the opportunity to test drive and comment on EJSCREEN. Now that it has been publicly released, we will continue to try out EJSCREEN and share our experiences with EPA. We encourage you to do the same. Visit http://www2.epa.gov/ejscreen to test-drive EJSCREEN and provide comments to EPA. Or, if you prefer, let us know your experience and we’ll incorporate your thoughts into our comments. Happy screening!