Maps: The Poorest Areas in America Are Often the Most Polluted

A sewage plant looms in the background of Barreto Point Park in the South Bronx.Mary Altaffer/AP

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The environmental justice movement has been fighting the hazards and toxins disproportionately affecting poor communities of color for decades. Now it has a new tool.

The US Environmental Protection Agency recently made public an interactive map that allows people to see how their communities’ exposure to hazardous waste, air pollution, and other environmental risks stack up with the rest of the country. “EJSCREEN” combines demographic data and environmental factors to create an “environmental justice index.” Environmental data includes vulnerability to air toxins and high particulate levels, exposure to lead-based paint, and proximity to chemical and hazardous waste treatment centers.

We started to explore the map, focusing on a few major cities. Not surprisingly, notoriously impoverished neighborhoods like West Oakland, the Bronx, and East New Orleans have the worst environmental justice indexes in many cases:

Hazardous waste:

New York City:

EPA EJSCREEN

San Francisco Bay Area:

Air pollution:

New York City:

EPA EJSCREEN

San Francisco Bay Area:

EPA EJSCREEN

Water discharge facilities:

New York City:

EPA EJSCREEN

New Orleans:

EPA EJSCREEN

Lead-based paint exposure:

New York City:

EPA EJSCREEN

San Francisco Bay Area:

EPA EJSCREEN

EPA EJSCREEN

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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