EPA opens window to agency, state data

When the Environmental Protection Agency launched its EnviroMapper online mapping tool three years ago, it was a high-tech, unique application in government. And although it still is, said David Wolf, Internet geoservices manager for the EPA's Office of Environmental Information, a new prototype coming down the pike promises to be even better.

The EPA is developing a new mapping tool, called Window to My Environment (www.epa.gov/enviro/wme), that links not only the agency's own environmental data, but information from states and local communities as well.

Window to My Environment provides users with a map and options to plot a number of features, such as water discharge locations and schools. Complementing a user's map are two windows on the right-hand side of the screen. One, called "Your Window," provides statistical and factual information, such as the selected area's population; the other, "Your Environment," lists commonly asked questions with links to federal, state and local sources of information about air, land and water.

For example, if you type in "Washington, D.C.," a map of the city's downtown area appears. By clicking on "air releases" from the map legend on the left, you'll see that facilities that pollute the air are scattered pretty evenly throughout the area, except where the White House, Capitol Hill and the National Mall sit. You can then open the Your Environment tab, click on the link asking "What facilities emit to the air?" and obtain a listing that includes organizations' names and addresses stored in the EPA's Envirofacts database. Information on toxic releases, Superfund sites, hazardous waste and a lot more is available as well.

"We want to make Window to My Environment a kind of one-stop shop for environmental information for the public," Wolf said.

The application currently only covers states and areas within EPA's Region III — Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The EPA plans to add three more regions this year and hopes to have nationwide coverage next year. In the meantime, the agency is actively seeking user comments to help it refine the application, Wolf said.

Window to My Environment uses Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.'s ArcIMS Internet mapping solution in concert with the Oracle Corp. spatial database that stores EPA's Envirofacts information. ArcIMS is more advanced than ESRI's MapObjects product, which EnviroMapper uses.

The application was designed with the public's desires in mind, according to Karen Klima, water information manager in the EPA's Water Office and a member of the EPA's Information Integration Management Team, which is developing Window to My Environment. Based on citizens' feedback via other online EPA applications and surveys, the EPA decided that partnering with states and presenting the information in the form of questions was the best way to go.

"What we wanted to do is to give the best answer we could using EPA data as well as state information that may be more detailed," Klima said. "It should be valuable to anyone interested in getting answers to basic environmental questions."

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