data

It’s Your Right to Know: The Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis

By Caitlin Briere

In order to make the products on which we depend, like pharmaceuticals, clothing, and other manufactured goods, companies across the U.S. use thousands of chemicals in their normal operations. Many of the chemicals necessary to these economic activities are toxic. While most are managed so that they will not harm the environment, some releases of toxic chemicals occur. You have a right to know what chemicals are being used and released in your community.

A “release” refers to the emission, discharge, or disposal of chemicals by industrial facilities operating under permits designed to protect human health and the environment. Only a very small portion of annual release totals involve accidental releases such as chemical spills. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) gives people access to data on these chemical releases as well as pollution prevention activities at industrial facilities across the country. I use this data to learn about industrial releases near my home or in a city I’m visiting. I also explore what facilities are doing to prevent pollution and reduce their releases, and how they compare to similar facilities across the US.

Each year, we take a close look at how facilities are managing toxic chemicals, and publish a report called the TRI National Analysis. In addition to providing a printable version of the report, this year we’ve completely redesigned the National Analysis website. You’ll find interlinked chapters that make it easier to navigate between topics, interactive graphics that tell the story of the TRI data, and links to EPA tools and resources that will help you explore EPA’s other environmental information.

I’m most excited about the new “Where You Live” feature, which provides information about chemical releases at local levels as well as national snapshots of releases to air, water, and land in all states. You can also explore analyses of U.S. metropolitan areas, major watersheds, and TRI facilities on Tribal lands. Do you want to know how industrial releases in your city compare to the rest of the country? Are you thinking of moving, and want to check out what facilities might be near your new neighborhood? The interactive maps in the “Where You Live” section can give you these answers.

I hope that you check out the new TRI National Analysis, and use these interactive analyses to find out what chemicals are being released in areas that you care about and what’s being done to prevent releases – because it’s your right to know.

About the author: Caitlin Briere joined EPA’s Office of Information Analysis and Access in 2010. She works on projects that focus on increasing public awareness and use of the TRI data, including the TRI National Analysis and the TRI University Challenge.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Empowering the Public through Power Plant Emissions Data

We’ve all heard that “Knowledge is Power.” I think about this phrase a lot in my work here in the Office of Air and Radiation because having access to good, scientifically robust, and relevant data is essential to our work. And because science and transparency are two of our core values, EPA is committed to providing the public with access to reliable data.

So, it is always gratifying to highlight good data on the EPA web site that is both accessible and useful. I encourage you all to check out our newly redesigned and interactive Power Plant Emission Trends page.  On this page you’ll find the most recent 2013 sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions data from power plants, as well as emission data from previous years.

These data show how power plant emissions have changed over time and where those changes have occurred, both geographically and at what power plants. For example, in 2013 SO2 emissions decreased by two percent, NOX emissions were unchanged, and CO2 increased by one percent from 2012 levels, while electricity generation remained generally stable. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Equity: A Strong Model for Environmental Justice

 

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/79543319[/vimeo]

By Makara Rumley

Our country’s immigration boom has been sustained by the dream of opportunity threaded with equity. When community residents have access to an equitable standard of housing, occupation, education, and healthy and safe environments, this idyllic dream becomes reality and creates a space where people can thrive. But what do we really mean when we talk about equity? How is equity distinct from equality?

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Equity can be used to describe the quality of fairness and inclusion that people receive.  Equity attempts to deliver justice without partiality, while equality seeks to deliver homogeneity across recipients. This idea can be portrayed with a simple anecdote. If I give two children, Sally and James an apple, it may appear that the distribution of both apples is equal. However, if James has not eaten in several days and Sally is on schedule to receive a small snack, James’s degree of satisfaction received from consuming his apple will be much less than Sally’s.  Not only does equity seek to level the playing field, it also ensures runners are prepared to race when they kneel at the starting blocks.

The objective of the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas (MAEA) – the first equity mapping system of its kind in the Southeast – is simple. MAEA seeks to make clear the ways to unlock regional prosperity and growth. This only occurs when communities have equitable access to a range of highly interconnected resources; see www.atlantaequityatlas.com for more information.

As  a new regional online data tool, MAEA was designed to connect local stakeholders to timely, accurate data. By examining eight key areas of community well-being –demographics, economic development, education, environment, health, housing, public safety and transportation – the MAEA offers fascinating insight into the state of our region, particularly as it relates to issues of access and opportunity. The MAEA also provides local change makers with the information they need to provide vital facts and data to enhance their community efforts.

By browsing the site’s nearly 200 maps, it will become increasingly clear how “place matters.” In other words, where you live has consequences for where you end up in life. Georgia suffers from a range of environmental challenges. These challenges impact the quality of air, land, and water.  Equity can be used to filter these challenges through an environmental justice (EJ) lens.

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Map: Life Threatening Asthma Attack Rate in Atlanta

As an EJ Attorney for GreenLaw, I use this equity paradigm to serve the counties surrounding the city of Atlanta. It assists me in communicating with policy makers to help them understand that minorities are disproportionately exposed to pollution. Other EJ and equitable development stakeholders can use these multitudes of maps and data to make the case for fairer development, or providing new resources to communities based on the conditions of specific neighborhoods. A neighborhood saturated with pollutants creates barriers for residents from contributing 100% of their efforts to the economy by producing capital.  Visits to the doctor, missed days at work, and children’s absence from school are all examples of non-economic and economic costs. These costs all lead to a less productive society and the Equity Atlas can be a vital instrument for helping account for these costs in planning and public policy. 

Equity is a wonderful lens through which to view regulatory issues such as air pollution permits and industry siting decisions.  Let’s use the lens of equity to remove this heavy burden on some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities!

Biography:  MaKara Rumley serves as the Environmental Justice Attorney for GreenLaw, a non-profit environmental law firm. Using the law to reduce disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution has been maintained her enthusiasm since 1996.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Visualizing Time Series E.Coli in the Blue River Watershed

By Scott Malone

Previously I provided a glimpse into the world of data management and the various challenges associated with formatting and managing geospatial data. After explaining the process of data management and customization in my last post, let’s review my experience with creating a time series animation.

KCWaterBug Main Legend

KCWaterBug Main Legend

My animation, as I mentioned previously  started with data.  I used the modeled E Coli measurements as an overall indicator of each site’s water quality.  Remember that modeled E Coli readings occur every fifteen minutes and I used a four month time period which meant more than 700,000 readings all together!   Attempting to symbolize every reading within the animation would have been a classic case of too much information. With this in mind, I decided to use the daily maximum value of the modeled E Coli readings cutting down the volume of the data while still maintaining a representative of the daily water quality. Visualizing one value per day made the most sense for my time series animation and the observer’s sanity. To distinguish the varying states of water quality I used threshold values pulled from the Water Bug mobile application offered through KCwaters.org as a template.

 You can find out more about Kansas City water quality and how
the KCWaterBug mobile app keeps the public informed here.

 As a background for the time series animation I used a land cover map (2006 NLCD)  in hopes of generally linking the extent of an areas development to stream water quality. Looking at the animation, you can clearly see the stream located almost fully in the heart of the urban core, Brush Creek, has some serious water quality issues.  The two telemetry sites on the stream change from red to yellow only once over the four month time span of the animation. In no way is this a definitive statement about the link between urban development and water quality however it is interesting to note that  streams considered “fringe urban streams” located in less developed areas such as Wolf Creek have a much more diverse range of water quality classifications during the same time period.

 There is more to water quality than rain storms and E. Coli.
Find out about PAHs in Kansas City streams here.

Another interesting trend visible in the time series animation is how E Coli levels follow precipitation events. Using precipitation data from StormWatch.com a Johnson County, Kansas regional weather service I was able to compare date precipitation events with the modeled E Coli. After a rainfall of an inch or so, modeled E Coli levels elevate, often into the red zone indicating a stream with waters unfit for contact (see fig. 1). Within a day or two most of the streams readings return to a safer level. All this is to say it would be safest to give a stream a couple of days after a heavy rainfall before swimming.

 

KCWater Stream Monitors

The stream monitors advise no water contact after a rain event.

Constructing a visually appealing and informative time series animation while not near as trying as the data management side of the project was not without its challenges. All of the classic challenges of constructing a static map combined with the unique trials a time series animation presents made this project a very interesting endeavor. Managing and properly formatting a massive amount of time sensitive data while presenting an understandable and informative final product was a complicated yet rewarding experience. However my course work up to this point was more useful in addressing the problems that arose relating to cartography and typical GIS quirks, as opposed to the data management side of the project which was eye opening.

As I began my internship here at the EPA’s Region 7 I considered myself a competent GIS user during my time here I was exposed to a wide range of “Information” issues that made me if only for a second question that assumption. However as I wrap up this experience I can say with confidence that I have a deeper understanding of the intricacies of data management and map construction. Working on a project intended to provide the public with a greater understanding of water quality issues on a local level was rewarding in its own right on top of which the experience and knowledge I gained will help me as I move forward toward a career. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Casey McLaughlin and all the fine folks here at region 7 for their help this summer and suggest that you take a look at the fruit of my labor.

Scott Malone recently graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Environmental Studies.  He spent part of summer 2012 as a voluntary intern with the Environmental Services Division where he worked with LiDAR, land cover, and water quality telemetry data.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Better Data for Better Environmental Protection

header-learn3_0As the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information, I am privileged to oversee the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program, one of EPA’s most potent incentive-based tools for tackling environmental challenges, especially when leveraged with other EPA expertise and data.

Each year, more than 20,000 facilities across a broad spectrum of industries provide EPA with information about their releases of toxic chemicals to the air, land, and water, as well as information about their pollution prevention successes.

In addition to its utility to communities and the broader public, the TRI Program’s wide-ranging, annual, multi-media data provides my staff and I with a wealth of opportunities in which to work together with other offices across the Agency to bring about positive environmental change.

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Environmental Impact Statements Are on the Map!

By Aimee Hessert

Do you ever wonder how a proposed project will affect the environment where you and your family live, work and play? We’re making it easier to find out. We’ve developed a simple, interactive map to help you learn about environmental impact statements in your area.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies proposing major projects or making decisions on major federal actions to develop environmental impact statements (EIS), which describe the potential environmental effects (both good and bad) of proposed projects that require federal approval, or other federal actions. The idea is to give you a view into, and a voice in, the federal agency decision-making process.

The map allows you to see what projects have EISs that are currently open for public review and comment, while also viewing EPA’s comments. Now it’s easier for local residents to access valuable information, stay informed and get involved, right at their fingertips.

Take a few minutes to check out the EIS Mapper. All you need to do is hover your mouse over your home state for easy-to-understand information about projects that may affect you. From there, you can review each project’s environmental impact statement and find out how to share your thoughts while the comment period is open.

In this information technology age, transparency empowers progress. Stay informed and get involved.

Check out EPA’s EIS Mapper here: http://eismapper.epa.gov.

EPA's Environmental Impact Statements by State Mapper

EPA’s Environmental Impact Statements by State Mapper

 

Aimee Hessert is the Deputy Director of EPA’s NEPA Compliance Division.  She has worked on GIS and IT initiatives for EPA’s NEPA program since 2004.

Learn More!:  The web-based mapping tool, NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by allowing the user to raise and identify important environmental issues at the earliest stages of project development.  Read the full blog post here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Maps Begin with Data

By Scott Malone

This summer, I worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, in Lenexa Kansas as a voluntary intern.  I learned that making a time-series map takes more than just getting data and putting it into ArcGIS.  For my summer project, I created a time-series animation of water quality trends using data from the Kansas City Urban Stream Network.

KCwaterbug LogoHosted at KCWaters.org, the project is “dedicated to promoting greater awareness about the quality of water in the Greater Kansas City Area.”  Using data acquired every 15 minutes over a 4 month time period (March 1st through July 10th, 2013) I created an animation showing water quality trends over our wet spring and early summer months.  The process of constructing a visually informative and appealing animation from raw data was full of challenges.  Unlike the canned projects I was accustomed to from my GIS courses in college, this project involved a significant amount of data manipulation before I was able to ever open up an Arcmap project and begin map-making.

Track stream conditions hourly using KCWaterbug.  Find out more.

sondeThe Urban Stream Network consists of eighteen sites spaced across sixteen streams in the Kansas City metro area.  Each site consists of a stream probe and telemetry box which collects readings on water temperature, conductivity, turbidity, and water depth. The readings are transmitted via satellite and compiled into a database using software called WISKI from a company named KISTERSE Coli data is modeled for each stream (you can find out more at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2008/5014/) based on other variables collected by instrumentation.  With readings done every fifteen minutes over four months, I worked with an initial dataset of over 700,000 records grouped by station by each parameter all wrapped into one fun text file.  I definitely experienced the joys of taking data and running through multiple processing steps before enjoying the fruits of my labor in a GIS friendly database.

 

telemtry_table

Not quite formatted for ArcGIS

First, I removed the header information (station name, number, other identifiers) provided for each parameter and converted it into a spreadsheet friendly format.  I painstakingly created a spread sheet for each stream (16, remember), transposed data, added stream names, and added parameter names.  With over 40,000 records for each stream (16, remember) the process was time consuming.  Unfortunately such data processing can become necessary when working from data extracted for purpose different than my own.  Once each stream was standardized, I combined them back together into a GIS usable table.

Adding time, or rather converting time, was another detail that I learned wasn’t always simple.  Of course, creating a time-series map necessitates time stamps that ArcGIS can use for creating a time-aware dataset.

After running through this data manipulation exercise, I now have a much greater understanding of data management.  I completely value having data in databases and extracting it out for an intended purpose.  I also appreciate that the *I* in GIS is there for a very important reason!  My next post will review how I took the telemetry data and started looking for interesting and useful trends.

Scott Malone is a graduate from the University of Kansas with a degree in Environmental Studies.  He spent part of summer 2012 as a voluntary intern with the Environmental Services Division where he worked with LiDAR, land cover, and water quality telemetry data.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Gone Fishin’

By Jeffery Robichaud

My boys have been bugging me to go fishing and I just haven’t gotten around to taking them (gotta get some licenses first).  Also our fishing hole (the creek down the hill) used to have a nice big pool at the bottom of a low water crossing but when they fixed it up for a new trail, the pool disappeared.  Now that they are older they probably wouldn’t be satisfied with the smallish sunfish we used to catch anyway.  Maybe I will take them down to the Missouri River to get a look at some Asian Carp.

With the weather finally warming up you might be taking your kids out for this annual rite of passage.  Each of our four states (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska) have wonderful programs to encourage and safeguard this fun pastime for the enjoyment of all.

Fish are an important part of a healthy diet, since they are a lean, low-calorie source of protein.  However some caught in lakes and rivers throughout the Midwest (as well as throughout the country) may contain chemicals that could pose health risks if these fish are eaten in large amounts.  EPA maintains a system that provides you information about Fish consumption advisories.

fishtissue

There are also a couple of easy things you can do to ensure fish are safe to eat.  It’s always a good idea to remove the skin, fat, and internal organs before you cook the fish (since this is where contaminants often accumulate).  As added precautions; make sure to remove and throw away the head, guts, kidneys, and the liver; fillet fish and cut away the fat and skin before you cook it; and clean and dress fish as soon as possible.  You can find EPA’s guide about eating the fish you catch here.

In future blog articles we hope to share with you information about Regions 7’s Ambient Fish Tissue (RAFT) Program, one of the longest running in the country.   Until then, Happy Fishing.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  His prize catch was a a 6am catfish as a youngster at a campground in Illinois (unfortunately he woke up everyone in the camp screaming for his father since it bent his pole in half).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Yes, you!

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I am constantly amazed at the wealth of information we have at our fingertips today. The internet makes research as simple as clicking. It’s not like in my childhood when you immediately went to the World Book Encyclopedia or the Encyclopedia Britannica to do research for a school project. If you needed additional information, you went to the local library. Our resources were miniscule compared to the seemingly unlimited sources we have today. Today you can even contact experts via email and read about their research.

With all this information, it seems like we should be able to solve many of our problems in a snap. Say there’s an environmental problem that concerns you. Without leaving your home or library you can access the U.S. Geological Survey map for that area, aerial photos, zoning information, plant lists, property owners, businesses, and environmental data like water and air quality and whether there are any Superfund sites nearby. The wonderful thing is that you don’t need to have a Ph.D. or be a top level scientist working for a big company to help solve problems. You can be you. You can make a difference in your local community! And, you may be able to help solve a national problem.

Many times problem solvers are people who put the pieces of the puzzle together in a new way. They apply new approaches. They see things others don’t. They make new connections. So be creative! You can make a difference. You are our future.

Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy is currently the Web Content Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Drinking Water Week 2013: What’s in YOUR Water?

By Lisa Donahue

I like to go camping in the summer with my kids. We make sure the hiking boots fit and pile all the gear and food in the car, with a plan to explore the wild lands of Pennsylvania.  We camp in state parks or private campgrounds. We have snacks to eat, and marshmallows to toast, but… what about water?

Do we drink straight from a stream? Certainly not! Streams can contain harmful bacteria and other pollutants.Do I buy bottled water to bring?  Or fill up our water bottles at the camp ground?

Taking a hike at Worlds End State Park

Taking a hike at Worlds End State Park

I think about drinking water all the time – it’s my job.  I’m part of the EPA team in the Mid Atlantic Region that administers and enforces the Safe Drinking Water Act, the law that says we should all have safe water to drink.

Public Water Systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act have to conduct tests to make sure the water they supply to customers and visitors isn’t contaminated.  Campgrounds and state parks are likely to be regulated as public water systems.  They are often in sparsely populated areas and use their own wells or other water sources to provide water to the campers and visitors.

How do I find out whether or not the water at a particular place is OK?  I check the data systems.  Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has an on-line database of all of their water systems.  I can search by the name of the park or campground where I’m planning to go, or search geographically.   Find it here:  http://www.drinkingwater.state.pa.us/dwrs/HTM/Welcome.html

Once I find the place I’m looking for, I can check to see if there are any violations.  Did the campground conduct all the tests it was supposed to?  Did those tests come out OK, showing no contamination?  If I’m venturing further away from home, some other states have similar on-line databases.  Also, EPA maintains the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS), which is accessible through our Envirofacts web site.

By the way, these databases don’t just have information on campgrounds!  They have information on community water systems, too — the water system serving your city or town.  For the most part, the water systems in the mid-Atlantic states meet EPA standards.

There are lots of ways to get information about what’s in the water we drink.  Did you find something through one of the links above about your drinking water?

Drinking Water Week is May 5-11.  Celebrate by taking some time to learn more about your drinking water sources!

About the Author:  Lisa Donahue has been an Environmental Scientist with EPA’s Mid Atlantic Region for over twenty years.  She’s a native of southeastern Pennsylvania, and enjoys being outside in all four seasons.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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