Rich Puchalsky (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Steps in using toxics-related environmental data
Define your question.
Figure out which data sets might answer your question (see list on second page).
Figure out how to access those data sets (see list of major on-line sources below).
Look at data, refine your question.
Extract and summarize.
If nothing seems to answer your question, scan the major on-line sources, check Google, then figure out which regulatory office handles the problem and call them.
Major On-line Sources
1. EPA Databases Page -- www.epa.gov/epahome/Data.html. Many sub-items include:
ECHO (integrated enforcement data)
Surf Your Watershed (water quality)
SFIP (integrated info for certain industrial sectors, now defunct)
AIRSData -- air pollution sources and monitoring (AIRS, NEI)
TRI Explorer (through www.epa.gov/triexplorer/) -- TRI summaries by area
2. RTK NET -- www.rtknet.org. Run by non-profit group OMB Watch. Includes access to BRS, CERCLIS, DOCKET (ICIS), ERNS, RCRIS, TRI, TSCATS, ARIP. Designed for grassroots activists and researchers (knowledgeable general public) who have to be able to trace data back to where it came from.
3. EPA's Envirofacts -- www.epa.gov/enviro/. Includes access to AIRS/AFS, BRS, CERCLIS, PCS, RCRIS, SDWIS, TRI, NPL, RODS. Updated more often than RTK NET, but interface not as good, except for good mapping capability.
4. Scorecard -- www.scorecard.org. Run by non-profit group Environmental Defense. Includes access to TRI, Superfund databases, many different air and water monitoring and quality databases, lead hazards, animal waste database. Combines data to the point where it can be difficult to isolate a data source; designed for general public. Best non-expert source for integrated toxicology about chemicals.
Data collection is an intermediate stage in any environmental issue.
Data sets aren't designed to answer common questions.
Data sets are difficult to use because of initial design for regulatory use, inherent complexity, reliance on U.S. states, and organizational sabotage (see below).
Access to data is sometimes blocked. Some current modes:
business secrets ("CBI")
petty obstructionism (FOIA delays)
Every data set results from a lobbying process.
Longitudinal time comparisons are difficult because basis for comparisons changes.
Watch out for a data set being called by more than one name, e.g. water permit data:
can be named after legislation -- CWA (Clean Water Act)
can be named after regulation -- NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System)
can be named after the database -- PCS (Permit Compliance System)
names change with database revisions
Major U.S. EPA Toxics-Related Databases
Releases and Waste
List amounts released to the environment as pollution or generated as waste.
Tend to focus on large, fixed sources.
TRI -- air, water, and land releases, waste generated
BRS -- hazardous waste generation, shipment, disposal
ETS -- smog constituents
NEI -- air pollution sources, both individual and area
Permits and Enforcement
Regulatory management of pollution from large, fixed sources.
RCRIS -- hazardous waste permits
AIRS / AFS -- air pollution permits
PCS -- water pollution permits
DOCKET (ICIS) -- civil court cases and enforcement actions
Focus on actual pollution levels rather than current emissions.
Can be air pollution detectors, water pollution detectors, biological surveys (blood tests).
AIRS / AQS -- air monitoring
SDWIS -- drinking water monitoring
STORET -- non-drinking water monitoring
NATA, IWI, NWQI etc. -- summaries derived from monitoring
Includes both toxicology and epidemiology (though epidemiology isn't at EPA).
IRIS -- official EPA toxicology results
TSCATS -- toxicology results submitted by companies
SRD -- chemicals in consumer products
CUS -- production amounts for toxic chemicals
PPIS -- constituents of pesticides
ERNS -- reported chemical accidents at fixed sites, or by rail, road, or sea
RMP -- planning for accidents, worst case radii, 5 year accident history
ARIP -- survey of worst accidents from ERNS
CERCLIS -- basic Superfund information
PRP -- database of entities potentially responsible for sites
RODS -- long descriptions of decisions about individual sites
U.S. Non-EPA Sources
FDA -- TDS (Total Diet Study) of contaminants in foods
Census -- demographics and economics
DOE -- EIA-767, EIA-906, etc. databases of power generation and related pollution
ATSDR -- health surveillance and toxicology, mostly related to Superfund