A Free Web-Based Tool, HGBEnivroScreen, Can Assist Communities in Understanding Risk Factors and Developing Environmental Justice Action Plans

January 2020. The Houston–Galveston–Brazoria (HGB) region faces numerous environmental and public health challenges from both natural disasters and industrial activity. It is also home to a number of historically disadvantaged communities that have limited ability to understand their vulnerabilities and risks. Even though local, state and Federal agencies collect various types of data that can assist in identification and understanding of the risks to each community, the access to these complex data is not straightforward and the interpretation of the information may require specialized expertise.  To address these challenges and to empower both residents and community stakeholders, a team of researchers in the Research Translation and Decision Science Cores of Texas A&M Superfund Center, led by Dr. Weihsueh Chiu, developed HGBEnviroScreen.  This project was done in close collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund. This web-based tool can be used to identify and prioritize areas of heightened vulnerability, and can assist communities in understanding risk factors and developing environmental justice action plans.

Using data from the 1090 census tracts in the HGB region, they accrued data into five domains: (i) social vulnerability, (ii) baseline health, (iii) environmental exposures and risks, (iv) environmental sources, and (v) flooding. Then, they integrated and visualized these data using the Toxicological Prioritization Index (ToxPi).

They found that the highest vulnerability census tracts have multifactorial risk factors, with common drivers being flooding, social vulnerability, and proximity to environmental sources. Thus, HGBEnviroScreen is not only helping identify communities of greatest overall vulnerability but is also providing insights into which domains would most benefit from improved planning, policy, and action in order to reduce future vulnerability.

Full article:  https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/4/1130