EPA shows Air Quality on Google Earth

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just unveiled their Google Earth version of air quality emissions sources on Google Earth.

The KMZ file from the EPA shows different colored markers for different sources of air pollution:

  • Cement Facilities
  • Chemical Manufacturing
  • Electric Generating Units
  • Natural Gas Pipelines
  • Oil and Gas Production
  • Petroleum Refineries
  • Pulp & Paper Industries

Clicking on any of the multitude of colored markers on the globe brings up an info balloon that shows a graph of the carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds for that facility.

This is a great step forwards in making air quality data more usable because it provides the geographic context, but you have to be an air quality expert or a pretty determined researcher to interpret the data. The questions that pop into my mind looking at it are:

  1. What does a high level of volatile organic compounds (or particulate matter or …) mean to my health? There is information on these topics on the EPA web site, but it’s provided separately. A more usable approach would pull in the relevant information right in the balloon (or at least as links from the info balloon).
  2. How far from the facility location would the effect be felt? What is the potential coverage area impacted? I’m sure it varies by weather conditions, but polygons or circles showing the potential impacted area would be more helpful. Even more helpful would be a calculator that would allow you to enter wind speed and direction and see the affected area as an overlaid polygon on the earth.

It’s nice to see the EPA taking steps to make their information more accessible. Some simple usability enhancements would make the information much more relevant to the average public.

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