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Federal health agencies announced the release of a tool to measure the impact of environmental burdens on health and health equity. 

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, announced on Aug. 10 the release of the Environmental Justice Index (EJI)

The EJI builds off existing environmental justice indexes to provide a single score for local communities across the United States so that public health officials can identify and map areas most at risk for the health impacts of environmental burden.

It is the first national, geographic-driven tool designed to measure the cumulative impacts of environmental burden through the lenses of human health and health equity, the CDC said. 

Cumulative impacts are the total harm to human health from the combination of ecological burdens such as pollution and poor environmental conditions, pre-existing health conditions, and social factors. 

The EJI was created to help public health officials and communities identify and map communities most at risk for facing the health impacts of environmental hazards. 

Social factors like poverty, race, ethnicity and pre-existing health conditions may increase these impacts. The agency gave an example of how pre-existing health conditions can be worsened by environmental burdens for two people with asthma. One person lives in a community with elevated air pollution, and the other does not. 

While both people have asthma, the person living in the community with high air pollution may be more likely to be hospitalized based on having both factors.

“Too many communities across our nation, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, continue to bear the brunt of pollution,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “Meeting the needs of these communities requires our focused attention and we will use the Environmental Justice Index to do just that.” 

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.

The EJI databases and maps can be used to:

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

The CDC said environmental injustice could profoundly affect human health and well-being.

Therefore, addressing these adverse effects is key to promoting health equity.

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

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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