In late July, the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Environmental Health launched a new online Environmental Justice Tool to help further the state’s Environmental Justice Policy.

City and town officials can use the tool to learn more about environmental justice and to create their own custom maps with information including environmental and infrastructure data.

According to the Environmental Justice Policy, first released by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in 2002 and updated in 2017 and 2021, “Environmental justice is based on the principle that all people have a right to be protected from environmental hazards and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment regardless of race, color, national origin, income, or English language proficiency.”

The EJ Tool acknowledges that, historically, people of color and lower-income individuals have disproportionately experienced the impacts of environmental health hazards such as toxic waste exposure and air pollution. These communities are also more likely to face limited access to health care providers.

The tool and the data it provides are meant to address environmental health inequities by serving a number of purposes, from enhancing inclusive community planning to informing permitting, transportation projects and community health assessments, according to the DPH website.

The EJ Tool introduction lays out the state’s criteria for EJ populations — communities that may be most vulnerable to environmental hazards based on demographic indicators such as annual median household income and racial makeup. The introduction also details the state’s Vulnerable Health EJ Criteria, which identify communities with “higher-than-average” incidences of environmentally-related health outcomes, including heart attacks and childhood lead exposure.

Users can navigate to a set of EJ Data and Reports, which present a map of the state with each city and town color-coded based on its number of EJ neighborhoods and Vulnerable Health Criteria. A Custom Mapping feature allows users to zoom in on specific addresses and add layers of data such as political boundaries.

The EJ Tool is housed on the DPH’s Environmental Public Health Tracking website, which also hosts a set of Community Profiles with broad environmental public health data for each of the state’s 351 communities, and an Emergency Preparedness Populations Planning Tool. Each of these initiatives aims to support the evaluation of and response to environmental health hazards across the state, according to the DPH.

Currently, the EJ Tool relies on certain EJ criteria from the 2017 version of the state’s EJ Policy, but the DPH says it will be updated to reflect the 2021 version of the policy. Questions and feedback about the tool can be sent to DPH-MA-EPHT@state.ma.us.

Written by Emanne Khan, MMA Communications Intern

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