About the author: Kim Balassiano has worked in EPA’s Office of Environmental Information since 2007. Before that, she was an EPA contractor for 12 years, doing mapping and spatial analysis.
Last summer, I read Rachel Carson’s “A Silent Spring,” which told the story of how unregulated chemical use, specifically pesticides, was leading to our undoing as evidenced by mass bird deaths. It didn’t take a PhD to connect the dots between animal and human health. I wished that the book could have included a map of how pesticide sprayings had impacted the neighborhood of my childhood. But I knew that EPA did have online maps showing a lot of environmental information.
When I was a contractor in 2001, EPA released Window to My Environment (WME). WME let the public zoom-in to their neighborhood and connect to environmental information . Imagine typing in your zip code and seeing the environment-impacting facilities upwind or upstream from your home, and which chemicals they release. WME used the latest mapping tools available at the time, giving the public an early whiff of online mapping.
Fast-forwarding to 2009, people expect to zoom into maps of their neighborhoods and back out to satellite images of our planet, all in a matter of seconds. The beautiful, data-intensive maps are not a miracle now – we want to see any content we care about. The real message is that we can use maps to bring transparency to the government’s work in a more meaningful way than ever before.
To modernize our online maps, yesterday we released an updated system called MyEnvironment. Our goal is still to help you answer questions about your own backyard, like who is operating down the block, receiving a new permit to release chemicals into the water, and most importantly, who is violating EPA standards for releases. We also pull together health information that you can use including the daily UV index, daily ozone and particulate matter forecasts, and potential cancer risk from air toxics.
Please use MyEnvironment below (also in the left column of our home page) and let us know what you think. I know that local environmental activism has helped to close the gap between what EPA does and what still needs to be done, and I hope MyEnvironment will help you find the information you need to get involved.