Environmental injustice map
Low-income and minority communities in Southland are among worst areas in U.S. ‘You think of California as one of the richest states and yet there are still communities that are suffering.’ — Cesar Campos, director of the Central California Environmental
Southern California communities stand out, in a bad way, on a new federal map.
Communities in Southern California are among the nation’s worst environmental justice hot spots, according to a new map released Wednesday by the Obama administration.
The interactive online map created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlights low-income minority communities that face the greatest health risks from pollution. The analysis combines demographic and environmental data to identify where vulnerable populations face disproportionate burdens from air pollution, traffic congestion, lead paint, waste sites and other hazards.
The map, called EJSCREEN, compares communities in all 50 states, allowing users to see how they stack up. It includes eight measures of environmental impact, such as levels of ozone and fine-particle air pollution, proximity to hazardous waste facilities and Superfund dumping sites. Each criterion is indexed to demographic data — the percentage of the population that is low-income and minority — to identify areas that face disproportionate effects from pollution.
The EPA analysis of more than 217,000 census block groups — small areas of about 1,400 residents — found that many communities in California, especially in southeast Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley, are among the most at-risk in the nation.
The EPA found some of the nation’s most affected block groups in places such as South Los Angeles, Maywood and Santa Ana, where low-income and minority populations face increased risk of exposure to lead paint.
In some parts of those communities, the agency estimates the risk of lead paint exposure is higher than 99% of the country based on the percentage of housing units built before 1960.
A number of low-income, mostly Latino areas of Riverside and San Bernardino counties rank near the top of the EPA’s analysis because of poor air quality, proximity to cleanup sites and heavy traffic congestion. People in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood live amid similarly high traffic volume, the map indicates, but they do not rank as high risk because they are wealthy, majority-white communities, considered less vulnerable to pollution.
Environmental justice groups have for decades battled the concentration of landfills, refineries, rail yards and other polluting facilities in poor communities of color. They said they would use the map to press for more emissions-cutting projects and environmental enforcement in the most affected areas.
Cesar Campos, who directs the Central California Environmental Justice Network, said the map showed that parts of California were “comparable to places in Mississippi or the Appala- chian Mountains.”
“You think of California as one of the richest states and yet there are still communities that are suffering as if they were in the poorest states in the nation,” Campos said.
The EPA analysis follows a similar environmental justice map California agencies completed last year. The state is already using that map, called CalEnviro-Screen, to distribute funds from its cap-and-trade program and to direct pollution-cutting projects to some of the state’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The EPA said it would not use the data to label spe- cific areas as environmental justice zones or as the basis for enforcement, funding and permitting decisions. Rather, the map will guide the agency’s environmental justice work.
The agency has already used EJSCREEN, created nearly five years ago and used internally since 2012, as part of a program targeting 50 environmentally burdened and economically distressed communities over the next two years. In California, the agency chose to prioritize the Imperial Valley and the Santa Clara County city of Gilroy.
‘You think of California as one of the richest states and yet there are still communities that are suffering.’ — Cesar Campos, director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network
THE EPA found some of the nation’s most affected areas in places such as South Los Angeles, Maywood and Santa Ana, where low-income and minority populations face increased risk of exposure to lead paint. Above, a thick haze hangs over L.A. in January.