EPA Seeking Feedback on Beta Tool to Address Community Environmental Issues

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.