US EPA encourages use of its environmental data

Instead of working hard to keep environmental data from public scrutiny, as GallonDaily sees from time to time in some Canadian agency or other, the US Environmental Protection Agency ran a contest to encourage designers of apps to make innovative and environmentally worthwhile use of data in the Agency’s files. Some of the winners seem to GallonDaily to be taking approaches which could usefully encourage the greening of business.

Among the winners:

  • Light Bulb Finder finds the most energy efficient replacement lightbulbs for a particular existing residential incandescent application based on economics, fit, appearance, and quality. For each recommendation, the app displays a bulb image, specifications, energy and dollar savings, and CO2 emissions reductions calculated for the zipcode where the replacement is planned to be used.  In the US, phase-in of energy-efficient lighting regulations begins January 1st, 2012. In Canada, energy efficiency regulations for lightbulbs will not kick in until 2014, if not postponed again.
  • Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping provides users with information about abandoned uranium mines and unregulated water sources in the vicinity of a specified location. While incomplete in its coverage of so-called environmental justice issues, it does provide a good indication of where this field is headed. The Ontario government makes users pay to access similar information through a private sector information provider.
  • CGSearch is an app that enables users to review and compare the air quality index, air pollutant levels, energy consumption of various US cities. It is always useful, especially for those of us with respiratory issues, to know the air quality of cities we intend to visit. or to which we are thinking of moving.
  • WeRecycle allows users to find the nearest litter or recycle bin, log or map litter and recycling bins, map temporary litter and recycle bins for large event, and express a need for a litter or recycle bin at a particular location. The app is still in a formative state but GallonDaily thinks it will also have a valuable use in identifying communities and areas that are not bothering to work to reduce litter or encourage on-street or event recycling.
  • Air Quality Data Explorer allows users to explore the data from EPA’s AirNow air quality database covering hundreds of sites.
  • What’s in the Water is an app covering pollution advisories for major bodies of water in the United States and Canada. It is designed for people who go fishing who need to know if they can eat what they catch.
  • toxicSlayar (that’s its name!) is an iPhone app that displays the EPA Toxic Release Inventory database by toxic chemical, by pound and by source. Using toxicSlayar you can hold up your iPhone and see which toxic chemicals were released around you last year, by which companies, and in what amounts. GallonLetter suspects this one could become a real gotcha, far exceeding in degree of challenge to industry the Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s Taking Stock report. The 2011 Taking Stock report is based on 2006 data. toxicSlayar is currently based on 2009 data, reducing the ability of industry and politicians to claim that, as they have frequently done in the past, that Taking Stock was then but now is different.

There were 38 submissions to the Apps for the Environment contest. They are fun, as well as informative, to browse and you can find them all described at We have not yet tried all of them but, being among those that see value in the use of information technology for reducing environmental footprints, we’ll be taking a good look at those which have potential for use in a Canadian context.

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