The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) Environmental Justice Action Plan calls for guidelines for evaluating “cumulative impacts.” As a first step toward such guidelines, a screening methodology for assessing cumulative impacts in communities was developed. The method, presented here, is based on the working definition of cumulative impacts adopted by Cal/EPA : “Cumulative impacts means exposures, public health or environmental effects from the combined emissions and discharges in a geographic area, including environmental pollution from all sources, whether single or multi-media, routinely, accidentally, or otherwise released. Impacts will take into account sensitive populations and socio-economic factors, where applicable and to the extent data are available.
The screening methodology is built on this definition as well as current scientific understanding of environmental pollution and its adverse impacts on health, including the influence of both intrinsic, biological factors and non-intrinsic socioeconomic factors in mediating the effects of pollutant exposures. It addresses disparities in the distribution of pollution and health outcomes. The methodology provides a science-based tool to screen places for relative cumulative impacts, incorporating both the pollution burden on a community- including exposures to pollutants, their public health and environmental effects- and community characteristics, specifically sensitivity and socioeconomic factors. The screening methodology provides relative rankings to distinguish more highly impacted communities from less impacted ones. It may also help identify which factors are the greatest contributors to a community’s cumulative impact. It is not designed to provide quantitative estimates of community-level health impacts. A pilot screening analysis is presented here to illustrate the application of this methodology. Once guidelines are adopted, the methodology can serve as a screening tool to help Cal/EPA programs prioritize their activities and target those communities with the greatest cumulative impacts.