Tox Town: A Great Tool for Learning About Chemicals in our Environment

By Judy Kramer and Andrew Plumer

Have you ever wondered which chemicals are in your community and what impacts they may have on your health? Chemicals are routinely used to support all parts of American life and are integral in our agricultural, commercial, and industrial processes. Although our way of life depends on the use of many chemicals, their potential environmental impact cannot be ignored. Understanding the relationships between these substances and our environment is critical to promoting safe practices and protecting public health.

Tox Town Southwest Scene

We at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) have an interesting interactive website that introduces middle school, high school, and college students, as well as educators and the general public, to toxic chemicals in their everyday environment. Tox Town uses graphics, sounds, and animation to show the connections between chemicals, the environment, and the public’s health. There are six distinct neighborhoods in Tox Town: city, town, farm, port, US border regions, and a new US Southwest scene. Each neighborhood is toured by selecting “Location” or “Chemical” links.

Tox Town presents the facts on everyday locations where toxic chemicals and substances might be found with non-technical descriptions of the chemicals. There is information about how the environment can affect human health. We also provide links to chemical and environmental health resources from trusted sources. Like all of our neighborhoods, our new Southwest scene demonstrates the uniqueness and some similarities of the environmental health issues we all face today.

In collaboration with Diné College, a tribal college for the Arizona and New Mexico Navajo Nation, the Southwest has very specific environmental hazards like abandoned mines, uranium tailings, and dust storms. With Tox Town, we at the NLM seek to inform the public about the environmental health concerns in their “own backyard” but also with areas with which they may not be familiar.

The US Southwest scene can be used as an educational tool not only for students and the general public living in the Southwest, but also for those of us living in other parts of the country that are unaware of the unique environmental health concerns for those living in this region. Tox Town can present environmental issues in an easy to understand manner that makes explaining the concept of environmental justice to the general public interesting and engaging.  Tox Town also offers some resources in Spanish, and has a text version. We also have resources especially for teachers.  Check out this great new resource and let us know what you think of the new Southwest scene and Tox Town in general.

About the authors: Judy Kramer is a Public Health Specialist, and a contractor for ICF International, working with the National Library of Medicine on Specialized Information Services. Judy oversaw the development of the Tox Town US Southwest scene and is a member of the K-12 team that produces educational resources for educators. Andrew Plumer is an Outreach Librarian for the National Library of Medicine, and also works on Specialized Information Services. Andrew is part of the K-12 team that produces educational resources for educators.