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Environmental Justice Tools and Services

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Activities that impact human health or the natural environment must take into consideration that some communities are disproportionately impacted by pollution, flooding, drought, and climate change. Consistent with our mission to improve the quality of life for all, Abt helps government agencies and impacted communities understand and address these inequities. We apply our expertise in physical and biological sciences, risk assessment, economics, policy and data analysis to identify and analyze disproportionate impacts. We also bring community engagement and communication specialists to build stakeholder relationships, share information, and facilitate public participation in the decision-making process. Our work helps agencies and communities achieve fair treatment and meaningful involvement when developing and implementing environmental projects, policies, and regulations.

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Abt’s Expertise

By leveraging a range of environmental and demographic data and a suite of analytic tools and methods, Abt provides the insights needed for decision-makers and the public to understand how communities are disproportionately impacted, or could be in the future.

Our team can:

  • Develop models that estimate a chemical’s relative toxicity, its fate and transport through the environment, potential exposure to humans, and subsequent impact based on demographic information.

  • Integrate demographic data and physical models to provide engaging, interactive tools that summarize the distribution of impacts in or near specific communities.

  • Conduct environmental justice analyses, such as those required by Executive Order 12898, to assess the environmental, human health, economic, and social effects of federal actions on minority and low-income communities.

  • Develop communication and engagement strategies and materials to help stakeholders understand environmental and human health issues and facilitate their meaningful involvement in the decision-making process.

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Selected Work

Assessing Environmental Justice Impacts of the Lead and Copper Drinking Water Rule

Client: U.S. EPA

Abt helped EPA assess the impacts of a proposed rule to reduce the amount of lead and copper in drinking water. We used census microdata from IPUMS to analyze household-level data, identifying the age of the homes (older homes are more likely to have lead in plumbing) as well as the demographics of the residents. Our analysis found that children in minority and low income homes were more at risk of exposure to lead through plumbing and lead service lines in many areas of the United States. These children also have higher blood levels of lead, and are likely to be exposed to lead through more pathways, such as lead paint. We found that the proposed rule would mitigate disparities in exposure to lead through drinking water by improving water treatments to reduce lead in drinking water. We also found that for household-level interventions, such as replacing lead plumbing or installing filters, equity could be improved through funding for low-income households.

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Flood Risk and Social Vulnerability

Client: Institute for Water Resources, US Army Corps of Engineers

Abt developed the National Flood Characterization Tool for the Institute for Water Resources. The tool estimates several metrics of flood risk across the United States to support agency decisions on projects to reduce risk and increase resilience. Flood risk metrics are estimated by Census block and are summed and mapped in the tool by county or by HUC-8 watershed. The tool includes estimates of the number of people who could be exposed to floods and three demographic characteristics known to be associated with increased vulnerability to the effects of floods. These demographic characteristics are 1) the percent of population exposed to flooding that have income below the poverty level; 2) the percent of population exposed to flooding that are age 65 or older; and 3) the percent of population exposed to flooding that belong to a racial or ethnic minority. These metrics are estimated for 100-year and 500-year flood zones mapped by FEMA, as well as areas that could be affected by failure of levee systems. The results and visualization in the tool help the agency understand where highly vulnerable populations are most at risk of flooding, and can help prioritize future investments in site-specific risk assessments, risk communication and flood risk mitigation infrastructure.

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Assessing Environmental Justice Impacts of TSCA Lead Rulemakings

Client: U.S. EPA

Abt conducted the economic analyses supporting EPA’s Revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Dust-Lead Hazard Standards and Revised TSCA Dust-Lead Post-Abatement Clearance Levels rules. Our environmental justice analysis accounted for demographic and household characteristics including race, country of birth, poverty-income ratio, building type and age, and the presence of a smoker in the house. We used an empirical model to predict blood lead levels in the baseline as well as under the rule scenario. We also combined several data sets to “match” dust-lead loadings with demographic information. Our analysis found that the rulemakings are expected to reduce blood lead levels and IQ decrements in children, particularly in minority and low-income populations.

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Visualizing Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Data for Communities

Client: U.S. EPA

Abt developed a user friendly search on the TRI homepage to help the public learn about toxic chemical releases in their community. It provides multiple ways to search for facilities by location. Using interactive charts, tables, and maps, users can learn:

  • How facilities manage chemical waste through recycling, energy recovery, and treatment.

  • How facilities reduce or eliminate pollution through source reduction.

  • Relative risk and potential health impacts information.

  • Facilities’ compliance and enforcement history.

  • Demographics of the surrounding community.

We also helped develop a factsheet, slides, and webinar to help communities and others use the search. A Spanish version is available.

Abt developed a data visualization application of the pollution prevention (P2) information reported to TRI. It includes an option to view geographic TRI release information overlaid with Census data showing low-income and minority populations, providing users with an easy and quick way to understand the demographics of who lives near facilities reporting to TRI and identify opportunities for pollution prevention to reduce releases occurring in or near disproportionately affected communities. It provides the public with an easy way to understand the demographics of populations located near facilities reporting to TRI, and helps users identify facilities that have successfully implemented pollution prevention practices across different industry sectors.

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Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Environmental Impact Statement

Client: Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

Abt is supporting CPRA’s evaluation of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Project’s potential impacts on low income and minority populations. The project, located on the west bank of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans, is designed to provide freshwater and sediment to highly degraded wetlands. Through research and outreach, Abt evaluated adverse impacts of increases in tidal flooding and storm surge on environmental justice populations and aquatic species important to commercial and subsistence fishing. Through additional outreach efforts, we will explore potential mitigation strategies with those affected to reduce adverse impacts that may result from the project.

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Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) Model

Client: U.S. EPA

Abt developed the RSEI model for EPA in the 1990s and supports ongoing improvements, annual updates with new data, and public outreach. Using data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), RSEI assigns numerical scores to releases based on the potential risk to human health. Government agencies, community groups, journalists and academics use RSEI to investigate environmental justice issues and trends in potential risk. Recent publications using RSEI data include an analysis of school siting in Michigan, an index of childhood inequality, and ProPublica’s award-winning series “Polluter’s Paradise,” which used RSEI data to investigate risks to vulnerable communities in Louisiana. RSEI data is also included in public environmental justice tools like EPA’s EJSCREEN, California’s CalEnviroScreen, Maryland’s EJMapper, and Washington’s Environmental Health Disparities Map.

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Exposure to Contamination and Risk in Tribal Communities

Client: Multiple clients

Tribes are often disproportionately affected by environmental contamination because of where they live, and often experience higher levels of exposure than the general public because of cultural and subsistence practices. Abt helps those tribes characterize their exposure to contamination and risk. This support includes conducting risk assessments that have led to changes in how regulatory agencies characterize tribal risk, with the ultimate goal of achieving environmental cleanups that allow Tribes to safely resume traditional practices.

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Communications & Community Engagement on PFAS Issues

Client: Multiple clients

For federal, state and local clients we have led communications and engagement efforts in communities impacted by PFAS contamination. Because each community is unique, we start with an environmental scan and needs assessment to determine information needs, existing communication channels, challenges, and opportunities. A key aspect of our approach is to leverage local stakeholders to help share information with community organizations, including schools, libraries, and religious institutions. This is complemented with print and social media advertising, electronic newsletters, hard copy mailings, flyers, door hangers, press releases, and community events. Through these projects we have developed tactics to address unique challenges, such as reaching populations with limited English proficiency, sharing information in communities without internet access, reaching isolated and remote communities, complying with COVID-19 restrictions, and overcoming mistrust, anger and disinterest in communities.

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Contact Us

Headshot_Kathry Stillman

Lisa Grogan-McCulloch

Senior Associate
Health and Environment
Cambridge, MA
617-520-2610
Lisa_GroganMcculloch@abtassoc.com

Headshot_Kathry Stillman

Matthew LaPenta

Senior Associate
Health and Environment
Cambridge, MA
617-349-2788
Matthew_LaPenta@abtassoc.com

Headshot_Kathry Stillman

Paul Anninos

Vice President
Health and Environment
Rockville, MD
301-634-1844
Paul_Anninos@abtassoc.com

Headshot_Kathry Stillman

TJ Pepping

Associate/Scientist
Health and Environment
Rockville, MD
301-347-5584
TJ_Pepping@abtassoc.com

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