Superfund Research Program

March 2020

HGBEnviroScreen helps identify communities of greatest overall vulnerability to environmental health stress. The ToxPi score and accompanying visual profile provide a relative ranking of overall vulnerability and the contributing factors, such as environmental exposures. (Image from Bhandari et. al.)

A new online tool combines environmental and health data to identify communities vulnerable to negative effects of environmental exposures and other stressors in the Houston region. The tool, developed by the Texas A&M Superfund Research Program Center in close partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, helps communities understand how environmental factors like flooding and air pollution can affect their health.

While many local, state, and federal agencies collect data to identify and understand the factors influencing community health, the public has limited ability to access these data and may lack the technical expertise to interpret the complex information. Led by Weihsueh Chiu, Ph.D., the project focuses on the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria (HGB) region, where intensive industrial activity and periodic natural disasters pose challenges for public health. The free tool, called HGBEnviroScreen, addresses these challenges and empowers residents and community stakeholders.

HGBEnviroScreen uses data from the 1,090 census tracts in the HGB region to identify areas of heightened vulnerability to environmental health effects. The data have been grouped into five categories: social vulnerability, baseline health, environmental exposures, environmental sources, and flooding. The research team integrated and visualized the data using the Toxicological Prioritization Index (ToxPi), a computer modeling tool that combines multiple information sources and creates visual profiles.

Researchers found that the most vulnerable census tracts have multiple predisposing factors such as flooding, social vulnerability, and proximity to environmental sources. According to the researchers, information from HGBEnviroScreen can provide insights into which factors would benefit most from improved planning, policy, and action in order to reduce future vulnerability.