See If Your Next-Door Neighbor Is a Toxic Dump

An interactive map created by media artist Brooke Singer shows the 1,300-plus toxic sites scattered across the U.S.

The Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo: Facebook)

Oct 8, 2015· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

Toxic waste often conjures up an image of bubbling green goo or a skull-and-crossbones sign, but many of the more than 1,300 most hazardous sites in America look anything but dangerous and could be located down the block from you.

With this in mind, media artist Brooke Singer created an interactive map at ToxicSites.us that enables people to locate and find information on all of the designated toxic sites. Using data collected from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, the map identifies where the agency has set up Superfund sites, where uncontrolled hazardous waste remains in the environment.

“I liken the EPA’s data site to a huge super mall—I’ll go there to get what I want, but in no way do I want to browse around,” Singer told TakePart. “As a visual artist, I wanted to come up with a data visualization that made the information more engaging.”

Dots in warm colors on the map represent the toxic sites scattered around the nation. The dots range in hue depending on the severity of a site’s hazardous ranking score, with red signaling a high score while dull yellow represents a low one. According to ToxicSites, New Jersey hosts the highest number of Superfund sites in the nation with 113. That state happens to be where Singer first visited a Superfund site in 2007.

“The one closest to me at the time was in Bergen County, New Jersey, at Quanta Resources,” she said. “I drove around for a while trying to find it, but then realized I was there when I saw a paper notification taped to one of the building doors. There wasn’t caution tape or any markings. I was so shocked, because it was such an ordinary place, there was even a day care center within sight.”

Singer developed her first version of the interactive map, called Superfund365.org, that same year. It displayed 365 of the worst toxic sites in the nation. Singer limited the number of sites because much of the information was not readily available through the EPA site. Even the current version of the map uses data that is outdated by two years.

“We’re waiting on the EPA to release a new information system that will replace the really outdated system they have that makes you download data spreadsheets,” Singer said. “They keep saying they’re close to releasing it, but until they do, I can’t update the map as planned.”

When the data is finally available, Singer plans to revise the map and set it to automatically update whenever the EPA releases new information. The media artist also aims to add videos each month of toxic sites she visits and further develop the story section to the site so people can share their Superfund experiences in a blog or video format.

If the bad news is that there are so many Superfund sites, the good news, at least, will be that the worst of them will be easy to find.

(Map: Courtesy Toxicsites.us)