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CPEHN in the News: New Tool Can Help Identify Environmental Health Inequities

CPEHN in the News: New Tool Can Help Identify Environmental Health Inequities

At CPEHN, we recognize that environmental conditions have a tremendous impact on our health. In our report, The Landscape of Opportunity: Cultivating Health Equity in California, we discussed how those living in areas with worse air quality are more likely to suffer from asthma and other chronic health conditions. We also showed that in California, the majority of people living in areas with adverse environmental conditions are from communities of color.

Recently, more research has been done to examine these environmental health inequities. A report published in September by UC Berkeley and the California Environmental Protection Agency found that Latinos and African Americans were much more likely to be exposed to air and water pollution than Whites.

However, according to an article published this week by California Healthline, the study used an older version of a state environmental health tool (CalEnviroScreen). As a result, the inequities could actually be even starker than the report indicated. In the article, CPEHN Executive Director Sarah de Guia discussed the differences between CalEnviroScreen 1.1 and the 2.0 version and how the new version should yield more detailed results:

"There are a number of significant differences between the current CalEnviroScreen and the version used to do this study," said Sarah de Guia, executive director of California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, a statewide advocacy organization based in Oakland.

"The new version looks at census tracts instead of ZIP codes. [California has 1,800 ZIP codes compared to about 8,000 census tracts.] It now has an index to measure water quality and looks at other factors like unemployment," de Guia said. "It can delve even deeper, and I think is now a more valuable tool that can be used at local levels when cities and counties are updating general plans."

Environmental health is a key component of CPEHN’s policy agenda. We stress the importance of a “health in all policies” approach that highlights the health impacts of all policy decisions, in particular land use and transportation planning. We also have been working to address climate change as a key public health issue, particularly in low-income areas and communities of color.

The CalEnviroScreen tool is actually the result of environmental policy in Sacramento. It was created as part of the bills that established the state’s cap-and-trade program to address climate change.

As Sarah indicates in the article, at CPEHN we are excited about the potential of the updated CalEnviroScreen tool and other environmental health resources to inform our work to eliminate health inequities across California.

"This change in the updated version is going to allow much more targeted information and we think that will have an impact on two significant areas -- housing and transportation, both of which are important factors in public health," de Guia said.

"When cities and counties are considering new housing projects, rather than putting housing on a site that has potential environmental impacts, this information can be used to find better sites or in mitigating  strategies," de Guia said.

"There are also ways to use CalEnviroScreen data in conjunction with the Active Transportation Program," de Guia said. "Active transportation can be a big part of improving public health."

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