Interactive Water Pollution Map Shows Where Polluters Actually Are

Very similar to the Interactive Airport Map I wrote about last week, this story that broke out in the New York Times, Toxic Waters – Clean Water Laws are Neglected at a Cost in Suffering, is another eye opener that is made even  more compelling through the use of an interactive map.

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes but not clean water?”

The article above is just one in a Toxic Water Series that the New York Times is writing.  For these articles they are taking the data they compiled from hundreds of thousands of water pollution records, which they acquired by sending Freedom of Information Act requests to every state.  The national database containing this information was run through a powerful Google map mash-up to dynamically display all of the information in a much more meaningful manner.

It’s scary to read that in the last five years half a million violations of water pollution laws have occurred.  It’s even scarier to actually see where all these locations are around the U.S.  By using their interactive water pollution map and typing in my zip code, I was able to find a facility less than two blocks from where I live in Cambridge, MA that has 166 violations and has yet to be fined.  You want to talk about an interactive map being able to help make an article hit home? It doesn’t  get any more real than that!  Below is a map of South Carolina, my home state, where you can see all the facilities in that one state.

South Carolina Interactive Water Pollution Map

Interactive Maps Make Data Readily Understandable

This map easily lets you choose a state or drill down by city or zip code to bring local data right to your fingertips.  The map displays facilities that have violated water pollution laws and the number of violations.  Many of these violators have multiple violations and absolutely no fines.

The way this map is able to compile information from hundreds of thousands of records and present it in an easy to understand and sort through format is amazing.  Taking data like this and viewing it in a database or a spreadsheet would never have the same power.  Reading an address on paper you might be able to think “Oh yeah, I know where that is.”  But when you are able to see it on a map in comparison to other landmarks like your home, it instantly shows you the reality of the situation, The fact that these violations are happening all around us is a real national problem.

Interactive maps make a clean compelling data set into an understandable argument that people can visualize.  Reading maps is something that all children are taught through grade school, so it’s no surprise that they hold a lot of authority and meaning to us.  Providing real meaning to large volumes of data through interactive maps then becomes very insightful. Through mash-ups of data and a familiar map, what was once complicated and confusing becomes clear and understandable.

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