EPA Releases New Tool to Track Pollution Discharges

Jan. 1, 2012
A new online tool developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make it easier for the public to track ...

by James Laughlin, Managing Editor

A new online tool developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make it easier for the public to track the type and source of pollutants being discharged into local waterways, including who is discharging, what pollutants they are discharging and how much, and where they are discharging.

Developed under President Obama’s transparency initiative, the Discharge Monitoring Report (DMR) Pollutant Loading Tool brings together millions of records and allows for easy searching and mapping of water pollution by local area, watershed, company, industry sector, and pollutant.

“Transparency leads to greater accountability and better information about pollution in our nation’s communities,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By making the data we collect available in easy to use tools, we are keeping Americans informed about the health of the environment in their neighborhoods.”

The tool calculates pollutant loadings from permit and DMR data from EPA’s Permit Compliance System (PCS) and Integrated Compliance Information System for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (ICIS-NPDES). Data is available for the years 2007 through 2010. Pollutant loadings are presented as pounds per year and as toxic-weighted pounds per year to account for variations in toxicity among pollutants.

The tool also includes wastewater pollutant discharge data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Users can search TRI data to find the facilities with the largest pollutant discharges to surface waters or sewage treatment plants (Publicly-Owned Treatment Works). Users can also compare the DMR data search results against TRI data search results and vice versa. The tool clearly labels the source of data when displaying search results but does not mix TRI or DMR data when calculating pollutant discharges.

The tool ranks dischargers, industries, and watersheds based on pollutant mass and toxicity, and presents “top ten” lists to help users determine which discharges are important, which facilities and industries are producing these discharges, and which watersheds are impacted.

General users can create a thematic map of the United States in which states are shaded in blue in proportion to the user’s search criteria. For example, the user can visually see the number of POTWs in each state with states shaded in dark blue having the most number of POTWs. Another search function provides access to trend charts and other ‘canned’ searches (by geographic location, industry sector, and/or pollutant) of DMR data that are often used by technical users.

Users can also search for facility-level information based on facility name or unique identifier (e.g., NPDES ID). An Advanced Search designed for technical users provides data in a comma separated value (CSV) file for post-processing.

A link to the new tool (http://cfpub.epa.gov/dmr) can be found on EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) website, which provides information about inspections, facility compliance, and state and federal enforcement actions. EPA has also released several new ECHO features, including a search for criminal enforcement cases and web developer tools that make it easy to tap into ECHO reports and maps.

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