Learn about environmental justice

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 Act (House Bill 21-1266) refers to these places as Disproportionately Impacted Communities. It defines Disproportionately Impacted Communities as:

  • Census Block Groups with one of 3 demographic factors:
    • More than 40% low-income households;
    • More than 40% people of color households;
    • More than 40% housing cost-burdened households;
  • Communities with a history of environmental racism perpetuated through exclusionary laws, including redlining, anti-Hispanic, anti-Black, anti-indigenous, and anti-immigrant laws; and
  • Communities where multiple factors (socioeconomic stressors, disproportionate environmental burdens, lack of public participation) cumulatively contribute to persistent public health and environmental disparities.

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

 

What is the Environmental Justice Act?

On July 2, 2021, Governor Polis signed the Environmental Justice Act (HB21-1266) into law. The Environmental Justice Act commits to strengthening environmental justice. It prioritizes reducing environmental health disparities in disproportionately impacted communities.

 

Environmental justice at other Colorado agencies

Many state agencies besides CDPHE are working to strengthen environmental justice:

In addition to the Environmental Justice Act (HB21-1266) there are many other laws that advance environmental justice in Colorado:

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!