June 01, 2014 / by John

Launching Ashtracker

Working in close partnership with Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Viable Industries, we are announcing the official launch of AshTracker.org. The partnership developed Ash Tracker to help citizens access detailed information about groundwater contamination near areas used to dispose of ash, scrubber sludge or other wastes from coal burning power plants. The map allows viewers to locate monitoring wells at these sites and review data on specific concentrations of pollutants such as arsenic, selenium and lead that have accumulated in groundwater above federal health advisory levels.

This application displays data from 39,080 groundwater quality readings collected at 1,009 monitoring wells. Of these measurements, 4,731 (12%) exceeded EPA thresholds for safe drinking water. The five most prevalent contaminants (see below) accounted for 80% of all violations.

Rank Parameter Chemical Symbol Number of Wells in Exceedance
1 Sulfate SO4 640 wells
2 Manganese Mn 218 wells
3 Boron B 215 wells
4 Arsenic As 113 wells
5 Cobalt Co 78 wells

Open data ready for use

Ash Tracker helps bring the coal industry’s paper reporting system into the 21st century. On a facility and monitoring well level, users can drill down to get information on contaminants monitored, not monitored, or above drinking water standards. For citizens who wish to dig deeper, Ash Tracker provides full access to a facility’s monitoring history in the form of a .csv.

This is the first and only place these ground water monitoring data have been made completely open and available to the public. Many states require facilities to monitor groundwater and submit copies of the results to state agencies. To obtain this information, EIP submits requests to these agencies pursuant to state “Right to Know” laws. This process can be long and expensive- requiring fees to agencies and document delivery services. A handful of states, such as Florida and Louisiana, provide this information online. But navigating these systems can be difficult if requestors are not certain what they are looking for or how the information is filed. Ash Tracker is designed to bridge this gap and make public information accessible to concerned citizens.

Growing a data service

Ash Tracker has now become an app that is central to EIP’s program and mission. While data is currently available for 30 facilities nationwide, the app and our Commons Cloud API will enable EIP to bring more facilities and their data online exponentially faster, while making it easy to keep all records current as FOIAs are sent to states. Without EIP’s massive effort to freedom of information act request, clean up, and analyze for heavy metal exceedances, these data would still reside across farflung state agencies in paper documents and siloed spreadsheets, unavailable for decision making and public use. Having these data open is a significant achievement that will expedite site cleanup and safeguard citizen’s drinking water.

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