Want to know what toxins you’re breathing? Easy visualization from the National Air Toxics Assessment

EPA recently released the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) with data updated for 2005. NATA is based on actual data on concentrations of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) such as arsenic, lead, and formaldehyde.
These datasets are an important resource for anyone who wants to understand air pollution impacts on health. Most importantly, EPA has made census-tract level data on cancer, respiratory, and neurological risks, along with facility locations and emissions, available as downloadable Google Earth maps. This means that anyone who can run Google Earth and can take 15 seconds to download the file can see these data.
There are many other kinds of data available at the NATA site. To get the downloadable Google Earth data, scroll to the bottom of the NATA download page , pick your state, and download the zip file. Double click the file with any zip extractor and it will self-install. Detailed instructions are available, which also contain the color-coded key to health risks.

Using the Google Earth maps meant, for instance, that we were able to determine that census tracts surrounding the future location of the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant in the environmental justice community of Springfield MA already have the highest combined respiratory and cancer risk in Western Massachusetts.  The plant, which will emit over 42 tons of fine particulate pollution (and over 13 tons of hazardous air pollutants) per year, will be one of the largest if not the largest particle emitters in the four counties of Western Massachusetts. (see posts tagged Massachusetts-biomass for more on biomass energy in the Bay State.)