Learn about environmental justice and disproportionately impacted communities


What are disproportionately impacted communities?

Some communities in Colorado have more than their fair share of environmental exposure. As a result, they may experience higher levels of environmental health harm. Many of these communities are home to people of color and low-income families.

The Environmental Justice Program is identifying communities that meet this definition. For more information, visit Colorado EnviroScreen.

What is in the new definition?

The new definition continues to define disproportionately impacted communities at the census block group scale. The Census block group scale is the smallest geographic scale of data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Disproportionately impacted communities include:

  • Low-income communities: Census block groups where more than 40% of households are at or below 200% of the federal poverty line.
  • Communities of color: Census block groups where more than 40% of the population identify as anything other than non-Hispanic White.
  • Housing cost-burdened communities: Census block groups where more than 50% of households spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs like rent or mortgage payments.
  • Linguistically isolated communities: Census block groups where more than 20% of the population live in households where all adults speak a language other than English and speak English less than very well.
  • Historically marginalized communities: Communities with a history of environmental racism created through redlining or anti-Black, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, or anti-Indigenous laws, policies, or practices that continue to experience present-day environmental health disparities.
  • Cumulatively impacted communities: Communities where multiple factors, including socioeconomic stressors, vulnerable populations, disproportionate environmental burdens, vulnerability to environmental degradation or climate change, and lack of public participation may act cumulatively to affect health and the environment and may contribute to persistent environmental health disparities. Cumulatively impacted communities can be presumptively identified in one of two ways:
    • They are in a census block group with a Colorado EnviroScreen score above the 80th percentile; or,
    • They are in a census tract that the federal Council on Environmental Quality’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool identifies as disadvantaged.
  • Tribal lands: The Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Reservations.
  • Mobile Home Communities: Areas that meet the Department of Local Affairs’ definition of a Mobile Home Park.
What is changing with the new definition?
  • Housing cost burden: The definition changed from 40% of households spending more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs to 50% of households spending more than 30% of their monthly income.
  • Linguistic isolation: Linguistic isolation previously only was a factor for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Now it applies to all state agencies.
  • History: Communities can now present evidence of historic discriminatory laws, policies, and practices. A historically marginalized community must also demonstrate current evidence of environmental health disparities to qualify as a disproportionately impacted community.
  • Cumulative impacts: Communities above the 80th percentile in Colorado EnviroScreen now meets this part of the definition. The new definition also adds areas that meet the federal definition of disadvantaged community in the Council on Environmental Quality's Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.
  • Mobile home parks: The new definition includes mobile home parks. It doesn’t matter if they are located in a Census block group that meets the definition in any other way.
  • Tribal lands: The new definition includes the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Reservations.

We updated CO EnviroScreen to align with the new definition. Here are the updates we made to the tool:

  • Colorado EnviroScreen has a new layer to show the areas that meet the updated definition
  • A separate layer shows mobile home parks as they do not fit census block group boundaries. Here’s how you can access both layers.
  • Colorado EnviroScreen continues to have a layer with the "old" definition of disproportionately impacted community.  The old definition of disproportionately impacted community was used from July 2021 to May 2023. We are keeping that layer in Colorado EnviroScreen because some agencies adopted that “old” version into their regulations.
  • We also added a layer to CO EnviroScreen showing the areas that meet the definition of Disproportionately impacted community for purposes of the May 2023 Air Quality Control Commission disproportionately impacted community permitting rulemaking.
  • The CO EnviroScreen data download now includes data columns for the updated disproportionately impacted definition, prior disproportionately impacted definition, and the Air Quality Control Commission Reg. 3 definitions. The data are available for download here, and the field key is available here.

We are launching a process to start creating Colorado EnviroScreen 2.0! If you’d like to get engaged, please share your feedback on Colorado EnviroScreen 1.0 in this form or join our June 15 community engagement session.

If you have any questions, please contact cdphe_ej@state.co.us.

What is the Environmental Justice Act?

On July 2, 2021, Governor Polis signed the Environmental Justice Act (HB21-1266) into law.

In 2021, the General Assembly created the Environmental Justice Action Task Force to study the multiple definitions of disproportionately impacted communities that applied to different state agencies and recommend changes. The Environmental Justice Action Task Force recommended combining all definitions into one that would apply to all state agencies.

On March 1, 2023, Governor Polis directed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to implement this recommendation. CDPHE worked with many stakeholders through a legislative process to create a single definition that applies to all state agencies based on the Task Force’s recommendations.

On May 4, 2023, the legislature passed House Bill 23-1233, which implemented the Task Force’s recommendations to improve and standardize the definition of disproportionately impacted community. On May 23, Governor Polis officially signed the new definition of the disproportionately impacted community into law.

This new definition will reduce confusion, improve clarity and certainty for everyone involved, and allow agencies to use resources more efficiently.


What we are up to

Air pollution control

The Air Pollution Control Division has a Climate Change Unit. The Unit works to protect a livable climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Change Unit focuses on communities disproportionately impacted by climate change. 

Climate change will impact people who are already dealing with multiple stressors the most. Effective climate action will reduce harm to all Coloradans, including disproportionately impacted communities. At the same time, climate mitigation strategies could either worsen disparities or promote equity. We commit to using the fight to mitigate climate change as an opportunity to support racial equity and economic justice.

To achieve these goals, we have developed a Climate Equity Framework. The framework ensures that racial equity and economic justice guide our response to climate change. The Climate Change Unit worked with community organizations, community members, and environmental justice experts in state, federal, and local governments to develop the framework.

The final Climate Equity Framework:

  • Provides principles to ensure that Colorado’s response to climate change considers equity at every stage
  • Shares best practices for outreach and engagement with disproportionately impacted communities
  • Outlines a plan for stakeholder engagement in greenhouse gas emission reduction rulemaking, and
  • Provides questions to help consider the potential equity impacts of implementing rules.
Hazardous materials and waste management

The Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division provides financial assistance and free test kits to low-income families to mitigate radon.

  • The purpose of the Low-Income Radon Mitigation Assistance Program is to enhance a safe living environment for low-income homeowners in Colorado. 
  • Radon is an invisible, odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally in Colorado. If there is too much radon in your home, it can pose risks to your health. 
  • The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that radon stay below a level called an “action level.” That level is 4 picocuries per liter. A picocurie is a measure of radiation exposure.
  • If a Colorado homeowner has radon levels above the action level, they may be eligible for assistance. The Program can pay to install a radon mitigation system. 
  • In 2021, the Program provided about 7,000 free radon test kits. The Program has mitigated 229 homes since it started in February 2018. It will continue to work towards providing a safe and healthy living space for all Coloradans, no matter their financial status.
Water quality control 

Data shows that people in Colorado who speak languages other than English are more likely to drink bottled water than tap water. To address this disparity, the Water Quality Control Division launched an outreach program about the benefits of tap water for Colorado’s immigrant and refugee communities.

Outreach to refugee and immigrant communities is part of CDPHE’s 2016-2017 strategic plan. That document set goals to advance environmental justice and health equity. 

Data shows that Morgan County is home to large populations of foreign-born residents. Many of them report drinking bottled water. Because of this data, we focus our outreach efforts in Morgan County. 

Most drinking water systems in Morgan County comply with regulations. But one system does not always provide safe drinking water. Because of this, our outreach does not just encourage people to drink tap water. It also teaches people how to read a consumer confidence report. Every community water system must create and distribute a consumer confidence report every year. This report provides information about water quality and any health risks that customers should know about. While the report contains important information, it is not easy to read. 

We taught classes for local health navigators to help refugee and immigrant communities better understand their tap water quality. We’ve also distributed information at mobile food pantries and at a local health festival. We placed educational posters in our partner locations. We even worked with a student group to paint a mural showing the benefits of tap water. 

In the future, we will work with refugee resettlement agencies to provide tap water information during the orientation process. We will also work with local health clinics to display posters in their facilities. 

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Please contact Kaitlyn Beekman at kaitlyn.beekman@state.co.us for more information!