MDCAT began as a project after winning the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory University Challenge, a contest to develop novel ways of using Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data. MDCAT uses a methodology similar to EPA's CalEnviroScreen tool to create a system of scoring census tracts in Marion County, Indiana on vulnerability to pollution.
Environmental data is combined into a pollution indicator score and social data is combined into a social indicator score. These are then aggregated into one combined score of environmental vulnerability. The use of a combined indicator allows for easy interpretation of many, often complex datasets.
MDCAT takes into consideration the cumulative effects of pollution factors (Sulfur Dioxide, Particulate Matter 2.5, Diesel Particulate Matter, Toxic Releases, Traffic Density, Cleanup Sites, Groundwater Threats, Hazardous Wastes, and Impaired Waters) as well as population characteristics (Age, Low Birth Weight Infants, Educational Attainment, Linguistic Isolation, Poverty, Unemployment) that are scored and compared across census tracts.