New interactive mapping tool ranks Washington communities most impacted by environmental health risks

Christina Twu, Communications Director, Front and Centered, 206-595-1783;
Dr. Edmund Seto, Associate Professor, University of Washington Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences: 206-543-1475;
Liz Coleman, Washington State Department of Health, 360-481-2016;

New interactive mapping tool ranks Washington communities most impacted by environmental health risks

The Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map provides new insights into health inequities at the neighborhood level to help shape state priorities, funding decisions

(Seattle) January 10, 2019—For the first time, people in Washington state will be able to compare how their neighborhoods rank for environmental health risks with the help of a new interactive mapping tool.

The Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map combines the most comprehensive data available to rank communities by the cumulative risk each faces from environmental factors that can contribute to inequitable health outcomes and unequal access to healthy communities.

The tool uses state and national data to map 19 environmental and socioeconomic indicators of community health, including exposure to diesel emissions, proximity to hazardous waste facilities, lead risk, housing affordability and income.

The data are combined into a cumulative score that shows where people experience the greatest environmental health risks across Washington’s 1,458 US Census tracts. This free online tool is hosted by the state Department of Health through its Washington Tracking Network. The tool is available at:

“This powerful tool provides a new way to look at environmental risks that exist in communities," said Dr. Edmund Seto, Associate Professor in the University of Washington (UW) Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences. “The data should help inform state environmental policy, funding priorities and regulation enforcement to reduce health inequities across communities.”

Policymakers, community leaders and the public can create customizable map views to pinpoint communities where socioeconomic factors such as income and race combine with unequal exposure to pollution to create environmental health disparities.

“Where you live, your income, race or language ability shouldn’t determine how healthy you are,” said Deric Gruen, Program Director of Front and Centered. “The Environmental Health Disparities Map enhances the ability of governmental agencies and policymakers to more systematically factor cumulative impacts into their decision-making, including designating communities with high cumulative impacts and prioritizing resources equitably. States like California have used a similar cumulative-impacts map to prioritize billions of dollars in environmental investments to improve the effectiveness of their policies.”

The tool is the result of a unique cross-sector collaboration that includes the UW, government agencies and community-based organizations representing diverse communities pursuing environmental justice in areas highly impacted by environmental health hazards.

The two-year collaboration was initiated by Front and Centered in partnership with the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences. They brought together partners from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

“Our mission at DOH is to protect and improve the health of all people in Washington state,” said Paj Nandi, DOH’s Community Relations and Health Equity Director. “Providing communities most impacted with the tools to identify health inequities so people’s lives can be improved is part of how we accomplish that mission and help advance health equity.”

“Our own air quality maps already provide us powerful tools to prioritize which communities we focus on at the agency,” said Erik Saganić, Acting Manager of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. “This new tool will be a great resource that will cover the entire state of Washington, expand environmental indicators and will help identify areas and communities that have faced barriers to participation in environmental decisions and solutions.”

The tool was directly shaped by input from affected communities through a series of 11 statewide “listening sessions.”

Participants in the listening sessions led by Front and Centered included community groups representing communities of color, immigrants, tribes, farmworkers, the elderly and other groups disproportionately impacted by pollution.

“In the three listening sessions Na’ah Illahee Fund conducted, participants told us that no one had ever come to their tribal community asking for their insights and experiences before, and Front and Centered and partner agencies were enthusiastic to include their voices,” said Susan Balbas, Executive Director of Na’ah Illahee Fund.

“We learned some valuable information that had never been shared prior to these visits—data that informed the mapping tool in the beginning stages. Grassroots tribal communities helped shape the framework and usability and influenced the visibility and potential impact of the tool,” she said.

At the statewide level, the map shows eight population clusters of census tracts ranked 9 or 10, indicating they are in the top 20th percentile of highly impacted communities.

In Western Washington, these areas include:
South Seattle-Kent-Tacoma

In Eastern Washington, highly impacted communities are found in:
The Tri-Cities

The map will be regularly refreshed and updated with the most current and relevant data available and through ongoing conversations with communities and users.

A detailed report on the methodology and the process used to create the tool is available here:


The Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington investigates how environmental and workplace factors affect people’s health. We educate tomorrow’s health and safety leaders and create innovative health solutions through our research, public service and cross-disciplinary partnerships. Our goal: sustainable communities where everyone has access to clean air, clean water, safe food and safe workplaces.

Front and Centered is a statewide coalition of organizations and groups rooted in communities of color and people with lower incomes working for environmental change that centers equity and is led by people of color.

The Department of Health protects and improves the health of people in Washington State. Our programs and services help prevent illness and injury, promote healthy places to live and work, provide information to help people make good health decisions and ensure our state is prepared for emergencies.

The Department of Ecology is Washington’s environmental protection agency. Our mission is to protect, preserve, and enhance Washington’s land, air, and water for current and future generations. Our innovative partnerships support environmental work throughout the state.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency jurisdiction covers King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. These four counties are home to more than 4.1 million people, over half the state’s population. Every day we work to protect public health, improve neighborhood air quality, and reduce our region’s contribution to climate change.