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Environmental Justice Tools and Services

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Efforts to protect human health and the environment must acknowledge that some communities are disproportionately impacted by pollution and other risks, such as flooding 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 toxicology, risk assessment, environmental policy, and data analysis to analyze disproportionate impacts. This information serves as a foundation to ensure fair treatment and the development, implementation, and enforcement of meaningful policy.

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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 decisionmakers and the public to understand how communities are disproportionately impacted, or could be in the future.

Our team can:

  • Apply expertise in chemistry and toxicology to develop models estimating 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 and environmental datasets to provide engaging, interactive tools that summarize potential sources of pollution occurring in or near specific communities.

  • Conduct environmental justice analyses, such as those required by Executive Order 12866, to assess the environmental and human health impacts of federal rulemakings on minority and low-income populations, enabling federal agencies to understand the full impacts of potential actions.

  • Develop communication and engagement strategies and materials to help stakeholders understand potential exposure to contaminants, environmental risks, and health impacts that may disproportionately affect certain communities.

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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, an integrated worldwide census and survey data resource, to analyze household-level data, identifying the age of the homes (older homes are more likely to have lead in plumbing) as well as 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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Assessing Environmental Justice Impacts of TSCA Lead Rulemakings

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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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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Contact Us

Headshot_Kathry Stillman

Lisa Grogan-McCulloch

Senior Associate
Health and Environment
Cambridge, MA
617.520.2610
Lisa_GroganMcculloch@abtassoc.com

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