Professor, students map toxic-release trends

Western Today staff
Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 10:09am

Western Washington University associate professor of Environmental Studies Troy Abel and a pair of graduate students have worked, in conjunction with the Environmental Council of the States and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, to produce a new interactive web application that charts point sources for toxic air releases for the entirety of the United States.

The application is available for use at

The application combines data from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory and the Risk Screening Environmental Indicators program to display air pollution levels, their risk-related score, by pollution source, on a map of the United States. It is designed to provide ordinary citizens with access to toxic pollution data regarding environmental releases from medium to large pollution sources like local refineries and aluminum smelters.

 “This project grew out of the scholarship in my co-authored book, ‘Coming Clean,’ and the analysis of one of the oldest environmental information disclosure programs, the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory,” said Abel. “Designed to provide the public knowledge about industry’s pollution releases beginning in 1989, we found that the structure and presentation of the information hadn’t changed much. Thanks to the work of some very talented students in our Spatial Institute at Western’s Huxley College of the Environment, we’ve provided more data than the EPA releases as well as making the information available on any smart phone.”

Abel said he hoped the application helps facilitate a productive dialogue about moving towards better environmental performance between citizens and their local industries.

“I also hope it gets our students in environmental studies thinking about how they may work productively at the intersections of social media and sustainability,” he said.

Assistance on the development of the application was made through a grant of $11,344 from ECOS.

“The Toxic Trends application is an invaluable public tool that allows users to access important industrial chemical information from any internet connected device,” said Bryan Shipley, project manager for ECOS. “We feel the map’s unique visual mapping layout provides an easier method for the public to learn about toxic chemical information and the associated risks within their community.”

Assisting Abel on the project were graduate students Jacob Lesser of Port Townsend and Ben Kane of Davis, Calif.

For more information about, contact Abel at (360) 650-3277 or