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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Posts Statewide Pollution Monitor

SACRAMENTO (CN) - California has created a searchable website that "identifies the California communities most burdened by pollution from multiple sources and most vulnerable to its effects," the state says.

The state's Environmental Protection Agency called CalEnviroScreen 1.0 the "first comprehensive nationwide screening tool" for calculating local effects of pollution.

"By identifying communities across the state that are burdened by environmental and health issues, we have a better understanding of where to prioritize our limited resources," Cal/EPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez said in a statement. "Promoting their environmental health also is an important step in restoring their economic vitality."

The state EPA said the tool analyzes California's pollution problems by using "data about 11 types of pollution and environmental factors and seven population characteristics and socioeconomic factors to create scores for each ZIP code in the state."

"Rather than addressing each pollutant separately, CalEnviroScreen helps scientists and regulators look at multiple pollutants and factors at once," the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Director George Alexeeff said in the statement.

Almost every region in the state has communities ranking in the top 10 for "combined burdens and vulnerabilities from pollution, other environmental factors and population characteristics." Around 50 percent of these areas are in or near Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, and 29 percent are in the San Joaquin Valley.

The program should help the state determine which communities are most burdened by pollution, to prioritize its resources to help those communities, which is required by state law.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 535, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, in September 2012. It requires that 25 percent of the money collected from cap-and-trade auctions must be used to develop projects to reduce the harmful health impacts of climate change and pollution in poor and minority communities.

Cal/EPA said it took three years to develop the screening tool.

Its first draft was submitted for public review in 12 workshops in seven regions of the states. Thousands of people submitted comments and questions. The second draft was released in January this year, according to a Cal/EPA report on the project.

To calculate a community's cumulative pollution burden, the model scores separate components, with a maximum score of 10, to assign areas a score up to 100.

To use the screening tool, users can type in an address, city, or ZIP code in the search bar at the top right hand side of the interactive map.

Communities scoring in the tool's top 5 percent of statewide ZIP codes appear on the map in blue; those in the top 6 to 10 percent show up as red.

About 7.8 million people, 21 percent of the state's 37 million residents, live in these ZIP codes, according to the report.

Areas in the top 5 percent include Santa Ana, Anaheim, Riverside, Palmdale, Oakland, El Cajon, the Parkway community in the Sacramento area, Coachella, and Bakersfield.

Those in the top 10 percent include large chunks of Los Angeles and San Bernardino, the Florin community in the Sacramento area, Stockton, Turlock, Visalia, Delano, and the Imperial Valley near the Salton Sea.

(These maps are in the final 20 pages of the 123-page report.)

The state says the screening tool is not a complete measure of a community's pollution burdens.

"Its scoring results are not directly applicable to the cumulative impacts analysis required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)," Cal/EPA said in its statement. "It compares the relative burdens on each community but is not an absolute measure of those burdens. The tool is not a substitute for formal risk assessment and cannot predict whether burdens on a community are high enough to cause health concerns."

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