Rich Puchalsky (

Steps in using toxics-related environmental data

  1. Define your question.

  2. Figure out which data sets might answer your question (see list on second page).

  3. Figure out how to access those data sets (see list of major on-line sources below).

  4. Look at data, refine your question.

  5. 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 -- Many sub-items include:

2. RTK NET -- 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 -- 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 -- 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.

Common Problems

  1. Data collection is an intermediate stage in any environmental issue.

  2. Data sets aren't designed to answer common questions.

  3. 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).

  4. Access to data is sometimes blocked. Some current modes:

  1. Every data set results from a lobbying process.

  2. Longitudinal time comparisons are difficult because basis for comparisons changes.

  3. Watch out for a data set being called by more than one name, e.g. water permit data:

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.

Permits and Enforcement

Regulatory management of pollution from large, fixed sources.


Focus on actual pollution levels rather than current emissions.

Can be air pollution detectors, water pollution detectors, biological surveys (blood tests).

Health Information

Includes both toxicology and epidemiology (though epidemiology isn't at EPA).



Abandoned 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

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