System blends data to draw an environmental map

System blends data to draw an environmental map

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

One picture is said to be worth a thousand words, and an application at the Environmental Protection Agency puts that truism to use for environmental data.

A problem with environmental data is that people don't see how it relates to them, but EPA's new EnviroMapper system supplies easy access to environmental data in the simple form of a map available on their desktop PCs.

EnviroMapper uses geographic information systems to display in a map a combination of environmental data that is culled from many sources.

The EnviroMapper fulfills one of the original National Performance Review goals: showing citizens environmental hazards in their neighborhoods.

EnviroMapper not only makes mapping environmental information as easy as point and click, but the system also increases access, which had been complicated by difficulties in rolling out an enterprisewide GIS, said David R. Wolf, manager of geospatial data for EPA Information Resources Management's Enterprise Information Management Division.

'This puts GIS on every desktop, whether you wanted it or not,' he said.

EnviroMapper is a Web-based interactive mapping tool for viewing environmental information. The system lets users make maps of any area that contains information maintained by EPA. It supplies users with mapping data from several levels, from a national perspective down to the community level.

EnviroMapper displays environmental information about, for example, drinking water, toxic and air releases, hazardous waste, water discharge permits and Superfund sites. The system lets users add map features such as roads, hospitals, schools, bodies of water and political boundaries.

Many sources

Much of the data is stored in EPA's Envirofacts data warehouse, Wolf said. But the Web application also maps data stored in other databases, including the U.S. Geological Service or state and local environmental organizations, said EPA chief information officer Al Pesachowitz.

EnviroMapper uses EPA's OpenLink, which lets users download environmental information about a specific community into their own Web pages. EPA has created a wizard that walks users through the process.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission uses EnviroMapper's OpenLink to display water quality levels.

The site, at, uses EnviroMapper to illustrate the water quality data as part of EPA's Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking Project.

The map it generated was covered with a series of boxes that represent Superfund sites, air releases, discharges to water or other environmental problems.

The EnviroMapper, however, also lets users access data from multiple databases, something that was virtually impossible before the Internet, said Wolf, a GIS enthusiast. During a recent demonstration, Wolf was pleased as the EnviroMapper combined data from the Geological Survey and the EPA onto one map.

Pesachowitz said it is better that data be managed by the owner to increase accuracy and timeliness.

The system was designed quickly and relatively inexpensively. The current version, at, was created in six months for about $500,000, EPA officials said.

The system runs on two servers that are load-balanced to operate seamlessly. The primary map server is a Compaq ProLiant 4000 with four 200-MHz Pentiums, 2G of RAM and a 50G hard drive. The secondary server is a ProLiant 3000 with two 450-MHz Xeon processors, 1G of RAM and a 128G hard drive. Both servers run Netscape Enterprise Server 3.5 and Microsoft Windows NT 4.0. The servers are at EPA's facility in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Basic capabilities

EnviroMapper was created using Visual Basic and Map Objects 1.2 software from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif. Map Objects is a set of objects Visual Basic uses to provide map functions for the EnviroMapper displays, said Dalroy M. Ward, assistant vice president and technical project manager for Science Applications International Corp. of Arlington, Va.

Map that data

Data that can be viewed using EnviroMapper:

  • Discharges to water
  • Superfund sites
  • Hazardous waste handlers
  • Air releases

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