C-FERST: A New Tool to Help Communities Navigate Toward a Healthier, More Sustainable Future

By Aaron Ferster

The proliferation of smartphones and mapping applications has made navigation a lot easier than it used to be. Getting from point A to point B usually requires little more than plugging in a distant address and then following a calm, generic voice as it calls out turn-by-turn directions. You can adjust your route, call up pit stops for food or gas en route, or even find alternative destinations on the fly.

My colleagues here at EPA are working to bring that kind of convenience and ease of use to environmental decision making and protecting public health. I’m thrilled to share that they recently reached a major milestone in that direction with the release of the Community-Focused Exposure Risk and Screening Tool, or C-FERST for short (we pronounce it “see-first”).

screen shot of the tool. a satellite image of a neighborhood.

C-FERST helps you map your local community.

C-FERST is an online mapping tool that provides access to resources for helping communities and decision makers learn more about their local environmental issues, compare conditions in their community with their county and state averages, and explore exposure and risk reduction options. Local maps are a key component, helping users gain both a lay of the land and a perspective for plotting out how environmental conditions and sources of pollution might change from one neighborhood to the next. In addition, the rich tool includes reports, fact sheets, links to other environmental and public health tools, citizen science resources, information about other community projects, and structured guides to help communities plan their projects to assess public and environmental health conditions. There’s even a digital community forum where you can ask other users for help or participate in discussions.

C-FERST is intended to serve the needs of a broad range of users, including the general public, academic and nonprofit institutions, environmental and public health professionals, state and local risk assessors, and EPA staff, including environmental justice coordinators, and regional science liaisons.

Together, people can share a computer to assess local conditions, and plot mutually beneficial actions to reduce risks and advance a healthier, more sustainable future for their entire community.

If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can give C-FERST a try; no special software is required (although a high-speed internet connection and some familiarity with geographic information system mapping software is helpful).

Check out C-FERST at: www.epa.gov/c-ferst.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is an EPA science writer and the communication lead for the Agency’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities national research program.

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