The city of Berkeley is less vulnerable to the impact of pollution compared to the rest of California, according to data from a mapping tool released by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment on April 21.
The tool found that the majority of the city of Berkeley ranks in the bottom 20th to 40th percentiles on a scale of vulnerability to pollution — the lower the score, the less of an impact pollution has on the community. Still a draft, the tool allows state agencies to pinpoint and diagnose areas heavily impacted by pollution.
Tim Pine, a campus environmental specialist, attributes Berkeley’s favorable ranking to its natural topography. Compared to basin-like areas found in Central California, Berkeley’s location allows for increased air movement out toward the bay, mitigating the impact of pollution.
Pine said the city’s socioeconomic conditions and strong activist culture are also important factors.
“You can’t contemplate how clean your water is if you don’t have enough money to put food on the table,” he said, referring to a 2012 ballot measure in which Berkeley citizens successfully voted to tax themselves for cleaner water.
Within Berkeley, West Berkeley is most vulnerable, ranking roughly in the middle percentile. Parts of Oakland and Richmond are ranked within the top 20 percent of highest-scoring areas, partly due to the presence of oil refineries, according to Pine.
By measuring the the effects of pollution and other socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and poverty, the tool scores various areas on their susceptibility to the impact of pollution and creates a statewide comparison.
The first version of this tool was released in April last year and was modified in September. The project originated from a 2004 Environmental Justice Action Plan by the California Environmental Protection Agency to properly allocate resources to disadvantaged communities.
“Research shows that when you have significant issues with these population characteristics, you’re more vulnerable to the effects of pollution,” said Sam Delson, a deputy director from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. “(It’s about) looking at the burdens and vulnerabilities of these communities and combining the two.”
This latest version of the tool was updated with several changes to refine the data.
Census tracts, initially based on zip codes, were redrawn to give a more detailed picture. Two new indicators — drinking-water quality and unemployment rate — were also added to give a well-rounded perspective.
Although primarily built for state agencies, the map also has an interactive focus, allowing any user to enter a city, zip code or address and see how his or her area compares to the rest of California.
The office plans to release a final version of this tool in June and will be accepting public feedback until May 23.