Public Lab Research note

Comparing air quality databases: a fun activity

by bhamster | November 30, 2020 21:53 30 Nov 21:53 | #25142 | #25142

Do the words database, fun, and activity belong together in a sentence? Let's find out!


One of the first steps in investigating local air quality is determining what pollutants to focus on. Sometimes it will be obvious based on direct observations we make, through sight (visible pollution or releases from facilities) or smells (telltale odors associated with air pollution). When it's not as obvious, we can try to find out what common air pollution sources are nearby and what they emit into the air.

Building off this post on searching for air pollutants by @kgradow1 and several other posts about finding public information on emissions (here, here, here), I'm interested in understanding what databases exist and how we can use them to find out what pollutants might be in a community's air.

There are MANY online databases and resources out there that provide information on air emissions and sources. How do we make sense of all of them? How can we use them to support our local investigations and advocacy?

Step 1. Build a list of databases and maps

Here's the fun part! Help build this list of publicly-accessible air quality databases by filling in information, adding more databases, adding columns of features to compare, and generally thinking about the sheer amount of information out there. One of the ultimate goals is to help people narrow down where to look for information, using a resource or two best suited to their situation. It is not a goal to encourage everyone to look through every database.

Click here to open the spreadsheet and edit it

Step 2. What to do next?

Now that we've learned about these databases, what does it all mean?

  • Which one should I use if I want to find out what might be in my community air?
  • How do I interpret information about pollutants from these databases?
  • What actions might I take after finding pollutant information?
  • Why are there so many different databases from the US EPA alone?

Let's keep talking about the steps that people can take after gathering information from these public data sources. Please share more questions and thoughts in the comments below!

Questions on air emissions

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The New York Sea Grant program put together a fabulous guide called "Environmental Justice Mapping Tools for New York State Communities," available here. The PDF guide contains a similar table of online mapping tools that notes whether the tool includes environmental data, facilities data, and an environmental justice component (among other data categories).

Thanks @amocorro for the heads up!

Glad this resource was helpful. Definitely worth looking through the 11 pages of great information for reference a bonus webinar recording!

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And it looks like the EPA is working to consolidate multiple federal, state, local, and tribal emissions reports with the Combined Air Emissions Reporting (CAER) initiative.

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