Software Allows Easy Mapping of Eco-Hazards in U.S. Neighborhoods

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - Curious about what environmental hazards might be lurking in your neighborhood? New mapping software marries data from federal housing and environmental agencies to provide detailed, area specific information about toxic waste sites, abandoned factories and other hazards in U.S. communities.

Cuomo

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo (Photo courtesy HUD)
Saying that "informed decisions are the best decisions," Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Andrew Cuomo unveiled a new application on HUD's website Monday that will help people learn about environmental matters that affect their communities throughout the United States.

HUD E-MAPS (www.hud.gov/emaps) was created by joining HUD's Community 2020TM software to databases from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Through HUD E-MAPS we're providing people with detailed, site specific information about what the government is doing to protect the environment or promote community and economic development," Cuomo said. "Residents, advocacy organizations, local governments and others will now have easy access to data they need to have informed conversations and to make smart decisions about the future of their communities."

Joining Cuomo at Monday’s launch were environmental activist and model Christie Brinkley; Denis Hayes, organizer of Earth Day and president of the Bullitt Foundation; and Greg Wetstone, director of programs at the National Resources Defense Council.

Hayes

Denis Hayes stands before an Earth Day 2000 banner (Photo © Jim Crabtree)
"Parents everywhere wonder whether their children's drinking water is polluted, and few of us know what's buried in our backyards," said Hayes. "HUD E-MAPS will bring such information to everyone - including those in the nation's poorest neighborhoods. Information is power, and HUD E-MAPS is designed to give new power to people who cannot afford high-priced lawyers to protect their children from environmental assaults."

Wetstone added, "HUD E-MAPS has the potential to be a real asset to the environmental community and citizens around the country who are concerned about what's happening environmentally in their neighborhoods. We're delighted that Secretary Cuomo and HUD are launching this initiative and we welcome it."

By using HUD E-MAPS data, Cuomo explained, communities will be able to make knowledgeable decisions about sites for new local facilities, such as public and assisted housing, or help prioritize the demolition of existing complexes. A community interested in redeveloping an abandoned or underused industrial site can use the data to determine whether the land is contaminated and what financial resources area available to leverage redevelopment.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said, "The information contained on HUD E-MAPS will help communities plan smarter and healthier neighborhoods. Families have the right to know about the quality of their environment. By providing valuable environmental information mixed with housing information and population data, you have effectively set up a 'one stop shopping' site for decision makers and citizens alike."

The backbone for the new mapping application is HUD's Community 2020TM software, a CD-ROM that provides users with more than 600 types of census data for geographic areas as big as a state or as small as a block. Developed initially in 1997 as an internal project management tool, the software has won an Innovations in Government Award from the Ford Foundation and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

The software provides detailed, site specific financial, managerial, demographic and program information for almost every entitlement or competitive grant awarded by HUD since 1992. It includes information on single family and multi-family housing projects assisted by HUD's Federal Housing Administration.

Through the use of HUD E-MAPS, people can obtain:

HUD is also exploring adding information from the Veterans Administration and the Department of Transportation.

map

A map of sources for air pollution (blue), hazardous waste (green) and other pollutants (black) in the author's home town (Map courtesy EPA)
"We have a great tool in this new technology," Cuomo said. "We want to provide the information to the citizens and let them know what's going on in their backyard."

The Environmental Defense Fund also offers maps of pollution on its Scorecard (http://www.scorecard.org/). Scorecard combines data from the U.S. EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) with information on the potential health hazards of toxic chemicals. These reports account only for pollution from manufacturing companies that reported to TRI in 1997 (the most recent year available) and include only the 650 chemicals covered by TRI.