Special Topics in Environmental Management

Popular EJ Online Tool Updated

The EPA has issued its annual update of EJSCREEN, which the Agency describes as “a tremendously popular tool, consistently ranking as one of EPA’s most used tools available through the Agency website.”

EJSCREEN was created in 2012 as an environmental justice (EJ) screening and mapping tool that utilizes standard and nationally consistent data to highlight places that may have higher environmental burdens and vulnerable populations. Since being made available to the public in 2015, EJSCREEN has been viewed over 211,000 times, says the Agency.

Indicators and distance

EJSCREEN employs 12 environmental indicators (e.g., traffic, lead, air toxics), plus race and income. According to the EPA, the program is for predecision use only. “Because of the need to provide national consistency, EJSCREEN considers a limited number of environmental indicators, and therefore excludes some local, state, regional and national data sets that may be important to understanding the EJ characteristics of a given location,” says the Agency. EJSCREEN outputs should be supplemented with additional information and local knowledge before taking action to address potential EJ concerns, the EPA notes.

The limited capabilities of EJSCREEN can be understood by looking at one of its key inputs—distance from certain facilities. For example:

  • Clean Air Act risk management plan (RMP) sites are included because of the potential severe effects of an accidental release of a highly hazardous substance into the air.
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) are included because they were the focus of much early EJ research and community action.
  • EPA National Priorities List (NPL) Superfund sites are included because of the concerns associated with being in close proximity to an NPL site.

Generally, EJSCREEN uses distance-weighted proximity to the above sites as a proxy for the potential impact of specific types of facilities related, for example, to regulated emissions from specific facilities. In other words, risks are aggregated from many sources and do not represent risk estimates for individual facilities.

“Site-specific risk estimates would require much more data and analysis, beyond what could be reasonably be [sic] included in a national screening tool,” says the Agency. However, EJSCREEN does include some environmental indicators highlighting potential exposure (e.g., ambient concentrations of PM-2.5 and ozone).

Update highlights

According to the EPA, the updated version incorporates the most up-to-date demographic and environmental data available. It also includes improvements based on feedback from users. This year’s update includes the following “highlights”:

  • A revised water data layer that “vastly improves” user ability to screen for surface water pollution;
  • The ability to look at municipalities as distinct geographic areas—a common request from local government users—in addition to states, counties, and census boundaries; and
  • New map layers that provide data on public institutions, such as schools and public housing.

EJSCREEN and instructions on how to use it are available here.