Pollution, toxic contamination and climate hazards such as extreme heat, floods, and storms disproportionally impact already overburdened and underserved communities. The compounding effects on health and community well-being create intergenerational harm. Centering the voices of impacted communities so they become active participants in solving their most pressing problems is key to attaining transformative and lasting environmental, climate, and economic justice.
Abt applies our expertise in physical and biological sciences, risk assessment, economics, policy and data analysis and pairs it with communities' lived expertise to identify and analyze disproportionate impacts. We establish trust and provide stakeholders with culturally relevant insights on environmental risk, pollution, and their compounding impacts. Through inclusive co-creation, we help uncover equitable opportunities for meaningful investment in the governance and decision-making processes to address these challenges.
Working side-by-side with affected communities, we apply our expertise in multi-disciplinary data integration and predictive modeling and analytics to develop actionable tools that lead to real solutions.
Our team can:
- Develop models that estimate a chemical’s relative toxicity, its fate and transport through the environment, its potential exposure to humans, and—using demographic information—subsequent environmental justice (EJ) impact.
- Integrate demographic data and physical models to provide engaging, interactive tools that summarize the distribution of impacts in or near specific communities.
- Conduct environmental justice analyses— such as those required by Executive Order 12898, to assess the environmental, human health, economic, and social effects of federal actions on minority and low-income communities.
- Develop partnerships that complement community members’ expertise with scientific information, enabling a complete understanding of environmental and human health issues that can be addressed by community-centered decision-making processes.
Conducting Environmental Justice Analyses for Major EPA Regulations
Client: U.S. EPA
Abt has decades of experience conducting robust environmental justice analyses for major EPA regulations. A recent notable analysis Abt conducted was for EPA’s Lead and Copper Drinking Water Rule. Lead exposure–particularly in young children–can damage the brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, hamper hearing and speech, and lead to significant learning and behavioral challenges.
For our analysis of EPA’s proposed Lead and Drinking Water Rule aiming to address this issue, we used IPUMS census microdata to analyze household-level characteristics. We identified the age of the homes (older homes are more likely to have lead in plumbing) and demographics of the residents. Our analysis found that children in minority and low-income homes were more at risk of exposure to lead through plumbing and lead service lines that are used in many areas of the United States. We determined that the proposed rule would mitigate exposure disparities by improving water treatments to reduce lead in drinking water. We also found that funding for household-level interventions—such as replacing lead plumbing or installing filters—could improve equity for low-income households.
Children’s exposure to lead—and the resulting higher blood lead levels—can arise through still more pathways, such as lead paint. For EPA’s Revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Dust-Lead Hazard Standards and Revised TSCA Dust-Lead Post-Abatement Clearance Levels rules, Abt conducted a suite of economic analyses, including an environmental justice analysis. We accounted for demographic and household characteristics including race, country of birth, poverty-income ratio, building type and age, and the presence of a smoker in the house. We also combined several data sets to “match” dust-lead loadings with demographic information. Our analysis found that the rules are expected to reduce blood lead levels and IQ decrements in children, particularly in minority and low-income populations.
Cumulative Impact Analysis in Air Quality Permitting
Client: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP)
Abt is supporting MassDEP’s development of Cumulative Impact Analysis guidance and tools that can be used by permit applicants and EJ populations. This initiative will incorporate cumulative impact analysis into the agency’s review of applications for certain air permits and approvals. MassDEP has been tasked by the state legislature with developing this approach to expand the analysis of environmental impacts of projects on vulnerable communities.
Abt has evaluated over 80 environmental, socioeconomic, and health indicators that would be appropriate for use within a CIA. These indicators are essential for understanding the background ambient air quality, the unique vulnerabilities of fence line communities, and the level of current pollution burdens in the area near a facility. All indicators, some of which were identified during a stakeholder engagement process, were evaluated to maximize their use within the CIA.
Abt also worked with MassDEP to develop the Massachusetts Air Toxics Risk Screening Tool (MATRiST). The tool can be used to estimate cumulative air toxics risk from proposed projects, and is a component of the cumulative impact analysis. Abt provided air modeling support to estimate air dispersion parameters used within the model, and supported the integration of air toxics values necessary to estimate risks from potential air toxics. Learn more.
Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Environmental Impact Statement
Client: Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA)
Louisiana needs to rebuild its eroding coastline, which is degrading in part because levees prevent sediment from the Mississippi River from replenishing coastal areas. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion (MBSD) was proposed to reconnect the river to coastal wetlands, which will improve their productivity and sustainability over the next few decades. Abt supported CPRA’s evaluation of the project’s potential impacts on low income and minority populations. Through research and outreach, Abt evaluated adverse impacts of increases in tidal flooding and storm surge on environmental justice populations and aquatic species important to commercial and subsistence fishing. Through additional outreach efforts, we explored potential mitigation strategies with those affected to reduce adverse impacts that may result from the project. Learn more.
Visualizing Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Data for Communities
Client: U.S. EPA
Ensuring communities have access to information is critical for building trust and transparency. Abt is streamlining information access for communities across the U.S. to strengthen Right to Know activities. We developed a user-friendly multilingual search tool on the TRI homepage to help the public learn about toxic chemical releases in their community. Using interactive charts, tables, and maps, users can learn:
- Relative risk and potential health impacts information.
- Facilities’ compliance and enforcement history.
- Demographics of the surrounding community.
- How facilities manage chemical waste through recycling, energy recovery, and treatment.
- How facilities reduce or eliminate pollution through source reduction.
The visualizations enable a geographic view of TRI releases overlaid with census data to better understand the demographics of who lives near facilities reporting to TRI. The visualization also helps users identify facilities that have successfully implemented pollution prevention practices across different industry sectors, and view releases which occurred on or near tribal lands.
Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) Model
Client: U.S. EPA
To provide risk-related context to toxics release data reported through EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), Abt developed a state-of-the art model called Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI). RSEI predicts how chemical releases travel through the environment to impact human populations, and assigns numerical scores to toxic releases based on the potential risk to human health. Government agencies, community groups, journalists and academics use RSEI to investigate environmental justice issues and calculate potential risks. Recent publications using RSEI data include an analysis of school sitings in Michigan, an index of childhood inequality, and ProPublica’s award-winning series “Polluter’s Paradise,” which used RSEI data to investigate risks to vulnerable communities in Louisiana. RSEI data is also included in public environmental justice tools like EPA’s EJSCREEN, California’s CalEnviroScreen, Maryland’s EJMapper, and Washington’s Environmental Health Disparities Map. Learn more.
Exposure to Climate Change and Contamination Risk in Tribal Communities
Client: Multiple clients
With their intrinsic ties to the land for sustenance and cultural identity, indigenous peoples are often on the frontlines of climate change and are disproportionately affected by toxic contamination. Abt has partnered with more than 40 tribal governments and indigenous groups to help tribes characterize their exposure to climate change and to contamination risk. This support includes conducting risk assessments that have led to changes in how regulatory agencies characterize tribal risk, with the ultimate goal of achieving environmental cleanups that allow tribes to safely continue traditional practices. Learn more.
Increasing Climate Change Resilience Among HUD Grantees
Client: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color are at an increased risk for climate-related impacts because their homes are more likely to be in harm’s way and they are less able to prepare for, respond to, or recover from the impacts of extreme events and natural hazards. Working with HUD, Abt developed a Community Resilience Toolkit to help recipients of HUD Community Planning and Development (CPD) funds identify opportunities to use their funding to enhance community resilience to the impacts of climate hazards. The toolkit is divided into six sections, each related to a specific climate hazard, such as sea level rise, inland flooding, or wildfire. Learn more.
National Flood Characterization Tool (NFRCT)
Client: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the U.S., and climate change will only continue to exacerbate this hazard. Abt’s NFRCT estimates flood risk across the U.S. through a map-based interface, capturing the number of people at risk by key characteristics, including income level and demographics. NFRCT also brings together criteria such as the potential for asset damage, human exposure, and exposure of emergency response infrastructure, and vulnerability metrics. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is able to use the tool to not only assess flood risk but to also establish priorities for investment. Learn more.
Communications & Community Engagement on PFAS
Client: Multiple clients
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are chemical compounds with suggested links to a wide range of serious health impacts, including reproductive, developmental, immunological, and endocrine effects and increased risk of some cancers. Our holistic approach to addressing PFAS contamination includes building trust with affected communities, always anchored in the individuality of each community and a thoughtful environmental scan and needs assessment to determine information needs, challenges, and opportunities.
We work with local stakeholders to help share information among community organizations, including through flyers, social media, electronic newsletters, press releases, and community events. We have developed tactics to address unique challenges, such as reaching populations with limited English proficiency, sharing information in communities without internet access, reaching isolated and remote communities, and overcoming mistrust, anger and disinterest in communities.
Our inclusive engagement strategies are complemented with technical skills such as hazard characterization, site and damage assessment, and groundwater characterization and treatment, as well as remediation and treatment cost estimation, regulation and litigation support. Learn more.
Developing the COBRA Health Impacts Screening and Mapping Tool
Environmental justice communities often suffer disproportionate health impacts from air pollution. Estimating and monetizing public health benefits from reductions in emissions can be a complicated process, requiring expertise in air quality modeling, health impact valuation, and the monetization of health benefits. EPA’s Co-Benefits Risk Assessment (COBRA) tool, which was developed by Abt, allows users to estimate and map the monetized health benefits from reductions in fine particulate matter emissions at the county level and can help communities identify neighborhoods with disproportionate impacts. COBRA has been used by state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and academic researchers in a variety of analyses to determine health benefits resulting from new policies or changes in practice. Learn more.
Roslyn M. Brock