Federal health agencies unveil national tool to measure health impacts of environmental burdens

New Environmental Justice Index addresses cumulative impacts on health and health equity

(Atlanta) – Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Environmental Justice , announce the release of the Environmental Justice Index (EJI). The EJI builds on existing Environmental Justice Indexes to provide a single environmental justice score to local communities across the United States so that public health officials can identify and map areas most at risk for health impacts of environmental load.

It is the first national, geography-based tool designed to measure the cumulative impacts of environmental burden from a human health and health equity perspective. Cumulative impacts are the total harm to human health that results from the combination of environmental load such as pollution and poor environmental conditions, pre-existing health problems and social factors.

An example of how pre-existing health conditions can be aggravated by environmental load would be two people with asthma. One person lives in a community with high air pollution, and the other does not. Although both people have asthma, the person living in the community with high air pollution may be more likely to be hospitalized due to both factors.

“Too many communities across our country, especially low-income communities and communities of color, continue to bear the brunt of pollution. Meeting the needs of these communities requires our attention and we will use the Environmental Justice Index to achieve this,” said Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“Addressing environmental injustice is essential to advancing health equity,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH. “While everyone is at some risk due to the health impacts of environmental hazards, the communities most affected are often those that already experience health inequities. The CDC takes action to address the adverse health effects associated with environmental injustice by identifying those most at risk with tools such as the Environmental Justice Index.

“Everyone deserves to live, learn and work in a healthy environment, and this new tool builds on existing environmental screening tools,” said Patrick Breysse, PHD, CIH, Director of ATSDR and from the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. “The Environmental Justice Index strengthens scientific evidence on the cumulative health impacts of environmental burden on communities across the country.”

The EJI was created to help public health officials and communities identify and map communities most at risk of experiencing the health impacts of environmental hazards. Social factors, such as poverty, race and ethnicity, as well as pre-existing health conditions, can increase these impacts.

“Communities are at the heart and center of HHS’s environmental justice work. This tool will serve as a resource for communities and public health officials to identify and prioritize overstretched communities so we can work together to provide solutions to issues they may be facing,” said the HHS Assistant Secretary for Health. , Rachel Levine, who oversees the Department’s Office of Environmental Justice.

The EJI can help public health officials, policymakers, and communities identify and respond to the unique environmental and social factors that affect a community’s health and well-being.

Specifically, EJI databases and maps can be used to:

  • identify areas that may require additional attention or resources to improve health and health equity,
  • educate and inform the public about their community,
  • analyze unique local factors driving cumulative health impacts to inform policy and decision-making, and
  • set meaningful goals and measure progress toward environmental justice and health equity.

Environmental injustice can have profound negative effects on human health and well-being. Addressing these negative effects is a key part of promoting health equity.

Through this EJI Index, HHS continues to advance the environmental justice goals of the Biden-Harris administration. The EJI complements the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), which is a geospatial mapping tool that the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is developing to identify disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution. CEQ released a beta version of CEJST in February for feedback from the public, tribal nations, and federal agencies, and plans to release version 1.0 later this year. Federal agencies will use the CEJST to help identify disadvantaged communities that will benefit from programs covered through the Justice40 initiative, which aims to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of climate, clean energy, affordable and sustainable housing , drinking water and other investments for underprivileged communities. As part of these efforts, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that 13 of its programs are included in the Justice40 initiative to help communities relieve themselves from pollution and climate-related events that affect health. people.

The EJI presents data for every census tract in the United States. Data used in the tool comes from the US Census Bureau, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Mine Safety and Health Administration, and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to providing a unique environmental justice score for each community, the EJI also scores communities on each of the tool’s three modules (social vulnerability, environmental burden, health vulnerability) and allows for more detailed analysis within these. mods.

For more information about the EJI, visit: https://eji.cdc.gov.