Putting Communities First
Without access to real and relevant information on exposure to pollutants, community groups can sometimes reach conclusions about health risks based on perception. EPA is working to change that with the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool, or C-FERST.
The Web-based tool under development can empower environmental managers and residents of communities to make decisions about environmental issues specific to their area. The computerized model supports EPA’s priority for advancing community-based risk assessments.
“Communities want to understand environmental issues in the context of risk, but it’s challenging based on the current level of information available,” says Brad Schultz of EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory and co-lead on C-FERST development.
Increasingly, communities are playing a central role in defining health problems that may be related to the environment and identifying the information required to address them. Communities have an advantage because they can supply local knowledge and interpret results in the context of local understanding and decision making. So, as community-based risk assessments gain momentum, community groups are becoming more involved in identifying, prioritizing, and mitigating their environmental concerns.
The C-FERST tool will be used to assess multiple chemical risks and, eventually, non-chemical risks such as socioeconomic status. These cumulative risk assessments take into account many factors that can impact exposure and toxicity in a community.
During its development, EPA scientists are listening to residents and local officials in communities to make sure the information in C-FERST is useful. Initially the primary users will be EPA scientists working with communities, however, C-FERST is designed to offer information geared to the general public in the future.
Eventually the C-FERST user will be able to view a community report for selected environmental issues such as air toxics, radon, diesel exhaust, lead, environmental tobacco smoke, or water pollution. The C-FERST reports currently contain general information including fact sheets and Web links; as the tool develops it will provide more specific information including maps and technical papers. C-FERST is being designed to provide information on:
- Affected population
- Source and concentration of the pollutant
- Exposures and related risks
- Related health effects associated with the pollutant
C-FERST is being developed in close cooperation with the EPA-coordinated community program called CARE (Community Action for a Renewed Environment). This competitive grant and technical assistance program offers an innovative way for communities to reduce pollution in their local environment. C-FERST will help to advance solutions for communities to reduce releases of toxic pollutants and minimize human exposure to them.