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EPA Seeking Feedback on Beta Tool to Address Community Environmental Issues

2012 August 9

By Dr. Valerie Zartarian and Dr. Andrew Geller

Communities and individuals are faced with exposure to many different kinds of pollution, like lead, air pollution, water pollution, and toxics in fish. People want to understand their health risks and how to prevent them. As communities move to protect their neighborhoods, the issues can seem too numerous, with too few experts and limited access to information that can limit meaningful involvement.

In EPA’s Office of Research and Development we are designing the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST) and related research to address these challenges. C-FERST is being developed to increase the availability and accessibility of science and data for evaluating impacts of pollutants and local conditions, ranking risks, and understanding the environmental health consequences of your community.

By putting this environmental information in the context of community assessment roadmaps, C-FERST will assist communities with the challenge of identifying and prioritizing environmental health issues and promoting actions to enhance health and well-being. The tool provides easy access to maps, information, and location-specific environmental data for decision-making and problem solving. C-FERST can be used by stakeholders to make informed, cost-effective decisions to improve public health.

C-FERST was originally developed through collaborative pilots projects with EPA’s Community Action for Renewed Environment (CARE) program grantees, including Springfield, Mass. and Portland, Maine. For example, Springfield partners used information from C-FERST to generate posters brought to their community meetings, as part of their issue identification process. They are now using maps and reports from C-FERST, to prioritize pollution and public health issues (e.g., asthma and vehicle exhaust, in conjunction with sociodemographic data), during the risk ranking step of their community assessment process.

At a recent conference, we also illustrated how the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribe, our initial pilot for Tribal-FERST (T-FERST), a tool similar to C-FERST, but designed specifically for tribes, can use the maps. The tribe identified climate change as a  critical issue because they are concerned about exposed homes and beach erosion near their wastewater treatment plant on the coast.  We overlaid data provided by the tribe of their wastewater treatment facility onto the T-FERST maps of EPA-modeled sea level rise estimates over time. These results showed a projection of ecosystems and coastal areas vulnerable from sea level rise due to climate change, including the potential impact on the treatment plant. Such tool outputs can provide valuable information to tribes and local communities and governments to inform their coastal adaptive management strategies.

Web access to a Beta version of C-FERST is now available by request here. Please give C-FERST a try, and then tell us how we can improve it to better meet your community’s needs.  We hope by using C-FERST,  communities will be better equipped to make the environmental decisions that affect their health and well-being.

About the Authors: Dr. Valerie Zartarian is a Senior Scientist for Exposure Modeling, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development. In addition to her current focus on building decision-support tools for communities, she is the U.S. co-chair for the international exposure working group of the Global Risk Dialogue and serves as science lead for EPA’s Office of Research and Development  in developing exposure models for cumulative risk from pesticides and toxic chemicals. Dr. Andrew Geller is the Chief of the Exposure Modeling Research Branch, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development. He has served as the Assistant Laboratory Director for Human Health, EDC’s, and Computational Toxicology in EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects lab and as a Principal Investigator in Neurotoxicology.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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19 Responses leave one →
  1. August 10, 2012

    I suggest the title be changed: EPA is TESTING New Tool…

    • kolp permalink*
      August 10, 2012

      Victoria, thanks for the feedback! I just made that change.

    • Valerie Zartarian permalink
      August 13, 2012

      Thank you for your suggestion. We do want to emphasize that this is a beta version that still needs to undergo peer review before full public release, without the login screen and current disclaimer that beta testers must accept.  We are seeking feedback on how we can enhance C-FERST before official review and public release.

  2. Adj. Professor Westerly A. Donohue permalink
    August 10, 2012

    Is it too late to add a few more factors? If not, noise pollution and roadside pollution could also be included in this resource. Thanks.

    • Andrew Geller permalink
      August 10, 2012

      Thank you for your comment. We will be adding factors as we continue to do community-based research as well as working with collaborators outside the Agency to add factors, with the goal of developing national and local estimates of concentration, exposure, and / or risk to high priority pollutants. Do you have a suggestion for a source of noise and roadside pollution levels?

      • Jeanne Simonelli permalink
        August 10, 2012

        Noise levels from hydraulic fracturing, well drilling and more important, road noise and pollution from the the truck traffic, as in Montrose, PA.

    • Valerie Zartarian permalink
      August 13, 2012

      We are seeking stakeholder feedback to enhance C-FERST before official peer review and public release, and welcome suggestions on additional data layers potential end users would like to see incorporated.

  3. Omega Wilson permalink
    August 10, 2012

    Interesting idea and effort in the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST). How does it compare with air screening tool call EJ-SEAT designed by EPA? Both would require stringent ground level validation research. There are weaknesses and positives identify in the EJ-SEAT report to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), July 2010. Have the pros and cons of the C-FERST been publicized. I served as a community perspective NEJAC member of the EJ-SEAT Workgroup for over two years. Screening tools often have difficulty with-standing the rigorous requirement of site specific EJ communities in diverse geographical areas of EPA’s ten regions. Thanks for you, Omega Wilson, President of the West End Revitalization Association (WERA), Mebane, NC

    • Andrew Geller permalink
      August 10, 2012

      Thank you for your questions and comments. C-FERST does not include any definition of environmental justice or overburdened communities; it was not designed for use to identify EJ communities, and its use is not limited to EJ communities. It’s intent is as a community mapping and assessment tool to inform environmental public health decisions. There are, however, many potential C-FERST uses related to EJ efforts, and C-FERST is complementary to EJ screening tools. It does give users access to demographic information drawn from the US Census and environmental source, exposure, and risk information drawn from EPA databases, with the capacity to load relevant local data onto the map viewer. In that, it gives the user his or her own ability to define areas and issues of concern. By making this beta version available, we are hoping to gain a better appreciation of the pros and cons of C-FERST and reduce those “cons” as we continue to develop the tool.

  4. August 10, 2012

    We would like to cohost a webcast w EPA to reach our networks nationwide.

    Does the tool also capture community health info, for example, children with Tourette’s, asthma, autism, etc?

    Claire Barnett
    Executive Direcotor
    Healthy SchoolsNetwork

    • Andrew Geller permalink
      August 10, 2012

      We would be happy to talk to you about arranging a webinar. We currently provide weblinks to CDC and States health data in several modules of C-FERST, but do not currently map health information. We are working to develop partnerships with CDC, states, and others to more directly incorporate critical health data. We note that locally collected or available data can be added to C-FERST maps for visualization by communities without those data becoming part of a national database. Our hope is that this will help communities in their problem formulation, issue identification, and developing of solutions. Given your affiliation, we would welcome feedback on the links to Schools information in the tool, as well as any other feedback.

  5. Gudrun Scott permalink
    August 11, 2012

    Odor is difficult to quantify or qualify let alone put a economic number or value on it but it can be critical. For example we have a poor rural community accepting the septic wastes , food processing wastes and factory farm manure all together over many years spread on the same acreage. At the public hearing of the draft permit to increase the hauling from 15 towns to 20 towns, one witness described her home basically worthless- property values were downed 20% and she cannot open the windows– nobody would buy the property. DEC of NY also claims that this permit does not need a further environmental impact statement although the towns are increased from 15 to 20 . To add insult to injury DEC has declared this community not to be eligible for potential environmental justice since their map for Steuben County NY here states that none of the towns of Thurston, Bath and Cameron are eligible for EJ but looking at other income data on the internet they seem to qualify that 24% live below the poverty line- the majority is Caucasian, median income per person is $19,159 and for NY state it is $38,554 does that qualify? anyway I have til August 16 to make a comment to the administrative judge…
    I am very much hoping that we can interest one of the 20 towns some of which are college towns, may consider to develop an industrial digester for sewage with all the science and impact on the environment it would be a great beginning in the US to catch up with Europe who adopted digesters au mass in the 21st century and now have 1% of their electricity from that and since people live so close together in Europe, they cannot get away with a huge odor problem– let the USA catch up!!!

  6. Maria permalink
    August 11, 2012

    Great information for a community to see what is in their neighborhood.

  7. Gary Bass permalink
    August 13, 2012

    Please be sure to include rural communities where mining in N.E. FL is draining our lakes and groundwater. They are destroying our environment. State Parks where historically were used for water skiing and fishing are now mud holes and closed due to sand mining within 4 miles. They are focusing on a geological formation called Trail Ridge and devastating communities. The Florida Aquifers are fragile. Mining is a hideous industry and give nothing back to the community but, grief. They are abusing our life giving water.

  8. agatha garland permalink
    August 14, 2012

    A link to the latest “T-FERST maps of EPA-modeled sea level rise” would be very helpful.

    We live at low elevation (coastal plains) where there are hundreds of abandoned industrial toxic and hazardous waste sites which btw the the EPA and our State has not yet cleaned up. In fact, the few cleanups that have been done are long ongoing ‘pump and treat’ efforts which left the toxic and hazardous wastes in situ, before global heating became a concern. Given this, what specifically is EPA doing about rising sea levels as a result of Global Heating?

    Also, our community opposes the development of Oil & Gas, including shale sources because such would very likely lead to CO2 and other GHG emissions increases placing our planet in serious risk (See articles by J. Hansen, et al.). We are opposed to the KEYSTONE XL pipeline! Citizens need to timely review and comment on EPA policy thereto—please link to it!

  9. August 15, 2012

    Greetings from ASD-Bangladesh (Association for Sustainable Development in Bangladesh,
    It has been facilitating for promoting environment, sustainable/ organic agriculture and Farners (human) rights.
    However, is it possible to develop learning tools for school students that would help to make awareness among future citizen to enhance environmental justice.

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