Environmental Justice in Wausau: Part I
According to EPA data, 46% of residents within one mile of the contaminated WAULECO site on Thomas Street live below the poverty level. WAULECO is a subsidiary of Sentry Insurance. Sentry’s earned premiums in 2017 grew by $169 million to $2.8 billion.1
What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental Justice policies and initiatives are meant to ensure that communities of color and low-income communities do not face disproportionate risks and burdens from contamination.
Federal Executive Order 12898 states that “each federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low-income populations…”
A key part of such policy is making sure these communities have equal opportunities for public involvement and that efforts exist to mitigate inordinate environmental impacts in and around the neighborhoods where such communities reside. This EJ approach was incorporated by federal and state agencies, and is critical to preventing environmental discrimination.
The EPA describes Environmental Justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”
Studies continue to show that low-wealth neighborhoods and those neighborhoods with higher percentages of people of color continue to face disproportionate burdens of industrial contamination.
Where are Wausau’s Environmental Justice Populations?
There is access to free data and tools that allow citizens to identify areas of Environmental Justice populations. Metro Ride and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) have also performed their own analyses and those records are available to the public. The MPO’s EJ-related map embedded below shows the percent minority in Wausau by census block group. Note the block in which contamination has been discussed and debated in the Thomas Street neighborhood, as well as around Riverside Park.percent-minority-mpo
HUD Qualified Census Tracts
An additional useful tool for citizens to learn more about Environmental Justice is HUD’s online mapping tool.
One can easily find HUD Qualified Census Tracts by inserting an address and selecting the appropriate option (“QCT Qualified Tracts”).
According to HUD, a “Qualified Census Tract (QCT) is any census tract (or equivalent geographic area defined by the Census Bureau) in which at least 50% of households have an income less than 60% of the Area Median Gross Income (AMGI).”
EPA Data and Tools
The EPA also provides data which is free to access and available online.
You can use the EPA facility search to get statistics about residents that live around and near contaminated sites, and can break down the assessment by distance.
For example, within 1 mile of the WAULECO property on Thomas Street, the EPA data shows that 46% of persons live below the poverty level.
To view these statistics, go to the bottom of the EPA facility page and select “1 Mile” under “Demographic Profile.”
The EPA also has a free environmental justice map tool called EJ Screen.
The tool allows one to analyze various EJ factors in an area when compared to the state or nationwide. The image below is an example of “Wastewater Discharge Indicators” when compared to the rest of the state of Wisconsin. Areas in red indicate the highest percentile.
1Sentry 2017 Year in Review
Featured Image Source: Envato