Cool But Unsung EPA Databases Can Help Environmental Reporters

May 18, 2011

Not all environmental reporters may be aware of some handy data tools from EPA that can help generate or confirm stories. There has been a data renaissance going on at EPA for the past two years, and not all reporters have gotten the news that data-driven reporting has become a time-saver instead of a time-suck.

One case in point: the "Cleanups in My Community" search feature EPA has put online. You can type in a street address or ZIP code and get back a list of facilities subject to EPA's Superfund, RCRA (solid/hazardous waste), or Brownfields cleanup programs — as well as federal facilities subject to environmental cleanups. That saves you the trouble of searching multiple databases.

Another resource worth knowing about in the era of the Fukushima meltdown is RadNet, a national network of more than 200 radiation monitoring stations across the 50 states and territories.

EPA had scaled up its radiation monitoring after the Japanese nuclear emergency — then came under fire when it scaled monitoring back to previous levels (AP story, May 6, 2011). 

Another data tool worth knowing about is EPA's just-released "Discharge Monitoring Report (DMR) Pollutant Loading Tool," which allows better (and easier) estimates of the pollutant load on a particular body of water. This makes it easier for reporters to assess whether current pollution restrictions will actually result in water quality improvements. If you are writing about controversial TMDLs (total maximum daily loads), you will want this gizmo in your toolbox.

And as the summer air pollution season arrives, don't forget EPA's AirNow, which offers copyright-free daily local forecasts, maps, and air pollution measurements that work really well online.