Combining ecological, eco-cultural, and environmental justice parameters to create Eco-EJ indicators to monitor cultural and environmental justices for diverse communities around contaminated sites

2022-02-12

Assessing environmental quality often requires selection of indicators that can be employed over large spatial scales and over long-time periods to assess the health and well-being of species, natural communities, and ecosystems, and to detect changes warranting intervention. Typically, the ecologic environment and the human environment are evaluated separately and selection of indicators and monitoring approaches are not integrated even though ecological indicators may also provide information on risk to human consumers from contaminants (e.g., eco-cultural indicators) or because of disease levels. This paper is a call for ecologists and managers to consider diverse cultural and environmental injustice disparities and health issues when selecting indicators for environmental assessment and monitoring. There is an opportunity for managers and community members to work together to preserve ecological and cultural resources and heritages. We propose a paradigm that selects indicators and monitoring approaches that lend themselves to the integration of human-diversity and uniqueness in the same manner that the selection of ecological indicators and monitoring approaches consider biological species diversity and uniqueness. The proposed paradigm builds on ecological risk assessment techniques, developing analogous endpoints for neighboring communities. For example, identification and protection of human communities, particularly culturally diverse and environmental justice communities, identification of contaminant corridors (e.g., through water or green corridors) into communities, and eco-monitoring of vulnerable communities are not routine at contaminated sites. Green corridors refers to a width of wild habitat (forest, grasslands) that connects other similar habitat paths (usually a corridor runs through an urban or suburban habitat). We coin the term Eco-EJ indicators for these endpoints, including examination of (1) unique cultural relationships to resources; (2) connectedness of on-site and off-site resources and habitats; (3) health of threatened, rare, and unique cultures and communities; and (4) linkages between ecological, eco-cultural, and public health for monitoring and assessment. We also propose that assessment and monitoring include these Eco-EJ indicators, especially for communities near facilities that have extensive chemical or radiological contamination. Developing these indicators to assess risk to culturally diverse and environmental justice communities would be an equivalent goal to reducing risk for significant ecological resources (e.g., endangered species, species of special concern). These Eco-EJ indicators are complementary to the usual human health-risk assessments, would include surveys of neighboring vulnerable communities, and require time and re-organization of current data and additional data collection at site boundaries and in adjacent communities, as well as rethinking the human component of indicators. This approach lends itself to addressing some diverse cultural and environmental justice issues with current indicator selection and biomonitoring, and helps identify specific hotspots of unique ecosystem risk and environmental justice community risk. We briefly discuss ecological and eco-cultural monitoring already on-going at three Department of Energy sites to illustrate how the addition of these indicators might work and add value to environmental management and to their relationships with surrounding communities. We recommend that managers of contaminated sites convene people from culturally diverse communities, environmental justice communities, local and federal government, Tribes, resource trustees, managers, and other stakeholders to develop appropriate site-specific indicators to address environmental inequities around contaminated facilities.

Authors: Joanna Burger, Michael Gochfeld, David S Kosson, Kevin G Brown, Jennifer Salisbury, Michael Greenberg, Christian Jeitner
; Full Source: Environmental monitoring and assessment 2022 Feb 12;194(3):177. doi: 10.1007/s10661-021-09535-8.