Cumulative impacts and “ground truthing”

by Tara Zupancic,

At the Centre, we prioritize diverse research collaborations that enable us to better understand how social and environmental vulnerabilities interrelate to create or sustain entrenched environmental health inequities. This is somewhat of a daunting task since the assessment of cumulative environmental health impacts is already inherently complex; well before factoring in measures of social inequality and patterns of discrimination.

When I think of the term cumulative environmental health impacts, I easily default to traditional notions of health risks due to multiple environmental exposures over time (such as air pollution). But more and more, environmental health researchers and advocates are recognizing the need to factor social vulnerabilities into the cumulative impact equation.

Dr. Manuel Pastor, professor of Geography and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, recently discussed the Cumulative Impacts (CI) screening method being developed with colleagues at Occidental College and UC Berkeley.

The tool examines cumulative impacts in urban neighborhoods along four dimensions: proximity to hazards, health risk indicators, social vulnerability indicators, and land use. The intention is to use the to tool to help identify overburdened communities and inform siting and zoning practices. Integrated with a community based approach, the process includes “ground truthing” whereby local community members document the proximity of industrial sites to areas where vulnerable groups, such as children, spend time.

Despite the valuable information that this tool can provide, Pastor’s research generally focuses on issues of environmental justice, regional inclusion, and the economic and social conditions facing low-income urban communities and he is very candid about the role discrimination plays in the legacy of environmental health inequity experienced by many inner-city neighbourhoods.

Listen to Dr. Pastor’s talk on the CI screening method and ‘ground truthing’ courtesy of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment.