Environmental Pollutant Source Locator, Illness Tracker, and Community Builder

Requested Amount: $5,000

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 3 months

This locator would reveal the direct public health effects of point source water, air, and soil polluters in the United States. It would be a map-based technology, with auxiliary features that allow for map customization, searching, interacting with other users, and contributing to the database. We are looking to create a relatively comprehensive picture of environmental pollutants in the US, their source, and their effects. This technology would identify power plants, concentrated animal feeding operations, nuclear waste sites, hydraulic fracking locations, mines, high diesel engine use and other air, water, and soil pollution sources. Users could search for their region, or research a region interest, and see a comprehensive, spatial listing of pollution point sources and the radius of the effects of these pollutants.

This technology would be able to layer soil, air, and water quality data, or view each data set individually. Although it is interesting and useful to understand pollutant levels in an area, health risk data is much more tangible. Therefore, we will also present data on the public health effects of these pollutants. This will include, but is not limited to: birth defects, childhood developmental complications, antibiotic resistance, respiratory problems, and cancer.

Users would choose a region and select the layer of concern, allowing them to examine health hazard, pollutant type, severity of either, and proximity to the users location independently. This technology would be web-based and focused on a user-friendly interface. Users would be able to create a profile with their personalized information, including the age, occupation, and health issues of users and their families, to the extent that they are willing to share.

The map use would be free of charge, but for a nominal sum, users could subscribe to the technology for a year and open up new features. These would include allowing users to save their maps for later and subscribe for email alerts that notify users when data on their map is changed or added. With a subscription, users would also be able to contribute testimonials to the map, network with other users in their area, and build community. With profiles, users help put faces and names to the statistics of childhood asthma or cancer in an area.

When users are able to connect with each other, powerful coalitions can begin to form that can take steps to effect policy and enforce environmental pollutant limits in their area. The website would ideally help provide resources for those community-members interested in affecting change in their communities, with useful links to information about environmental pollutant policies, and corresponding representatives in their area.

What unmet need does our product meet?

Our project satisfies an important unmet need: to provide people with pertinent public health information while simultaneously educating them about the environmental hazards that increase the likelihood of developing these diseases and conditions. While there are some websites that have a map that displays certain pollutants in the US, none exist that layer every point source pollutant in an area. In addition, many of these sites do not directly correlate the pollutant with a health issue. Our map would showcase both the location of the polluter and the statistics of all health problems in the area that could be related to pollution. A few good competitors exist. Scorecard: The Pollution Information Site features several maps by which a user can locate different hazards by clicking on a state or by entering a zip code. However, this website does not show the correlation between the amount of pollution and the amount of diseases or health conditions. Also, using EPA data, Google Earth shows an interactive map that locates the 8 major point-source sectors per pollutant. This source also fails to show the subsequent health problems that result from these pollutants. This website would become an accurate and in-depth center of information about the public health ramifications of pollution.


Kyra Spratling, Female, 33, Detroit

As a mother of a growing son this program would help Kyra to find out which schools are furthest from polluted areas and which areas would be the best for the to live should they decide to relocate. She explained that often times she hears stories about how young people have development issues because of the type of environment in which they live or the type of food that they eat. She wants to avoid that at all costs. This program would definitely benefit her and her child.

Mary O’Neill, 51, Grand Rapids, MI

As a mother of two children raised in the 90’s, Mary thinks this technology would have greatly informed where she chose to raise her family, had it been available. She feels lucky that her job took her to a relatively clean city, which rarely experiences dangerously high levels of air, water, or soil pollution, but she acknowledges that many people do not have such luck. She believes a map like ours could help parents make decisions about where to raise their kids that can keep them healthy and happy and allow for development in a safe environment.

Stefan Erickson, 18, Salt Lake City

As a young adult, Stefan feels that this technology could help guide the way he leads his own life, even without immediate plans for children. In the valley around the Great Salt Lake, air pollution is always of great concern and this technology could help Stefan choose to live in a less polluted neighborhood of the valley. It would show him where he would receive minimal exposure to air pollution to keep him healthy, so he can continue to enjoy his active lifestyle in the mountains.

Collin Figley, 22, Washington DC

Figley believes that this website could be a useful tool in influencing policymakers. As a resident of Washington DC, Figley is constantly submerged in an environment of political opinion, lobbyists, legislators, government agencies, and other individuals that actively participate in government. He believes that to make change within a system, citizens need the relevant tools to persuade government officials to make those changes. If our website could make environmental issues related to public health evident, it could be used as support to make drastic political change regarding pollution.

How big is the potential market for our idea?

The potential market for our idea is any concerned community member, but especially families. It is critical to keep our children healthy, happy, and safe, and this technology would allow families to make informed decisions about where to raise a family, from a public health standpoint. Not only does it provide useful knowledge that could inform where a family chooses to live, but if a family has established a home in a region, it could allow them to take proper precautions to consume safe drinking water, filter the air in their home, and consume fruits and vegetables that have been grown in safe soil. Perhaps most importantly, it allows users to connect with one another and to build community around a shared concern for the environment and the health of their children. The potential for real, tangible, environmental policy change is made possible by creating a platform for sharing experiences and understanding a citizen’s ability to affect change.

How is our idea innovative — new or different from something already existing?

As stated above, our project’s main purpose is different from the data already available on the web. Our project would not merely present the audience with the location of a pollutant, nor would it solely display the statistics about health risks in an area. Instead, this project would incorporate both of these elements to emphasize the direct effects of pollution on public health. This unmet need would be reached through a more aesthetically pleasing way than the already-available sources as well. Our team plans to create maps that are interactive for the user, practical and easy to use, and visually appealing. Most of the existing visual displays of pollution location on the web is not user-friendly or technologically advanced. This project would include sophisticated technology. The exciting aspect about our locator/tracker is that it has a visual layering effect over the map by which users can view pollutants and illnesses that they are most concerned about or all of these variables at once. Our project would be groundbreaking in displaying the connection between pollution and public health. Eventually, the availability of this new technology could assist users in influencing policy and environmental regulations in their community.

How will our idea be financially sustainable?

Our main source of financial sustainability would be through advertisements presented on the website. We will also apply for grants that support sustainability and public health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) program provides grants to organizations that work to improve healthcare awareness. Another source of financial sustainability would be our $10 per year subscription, which would provide more in depth information about the health problems due to pollution. This money would go to the upkeep of our website and allow us to provide more and more information to our users. After further development we will create a $1 application that will allow users to access the information from their smart phones.

Why is our team right to develop this project?

Our Knight Team is the right group to develop this project because we are individuals who care about how pollution affects in people in our communities and around the world. We each have a personal dedication to the environment and how industrial development has an effect on our health. Both Caroline and Erin are studying environmental science and therefore are able to dig deep into the environmental issues that developments such as waste lands and power plants have on health. Yemisi has a great interest in environmental issues and has seen first hand how an area with pollutants can affect a certain community. Using our knowledge, we can come together to create a program that will serve the United States in a powerful way.


8 Responses to “Environmental Pollutant Source Locator, Illness Tracker, and Community Builder”

  1. I really like this idea and think it is a step in the right direction for environmental justice. I like how it works on a community levels so users can really feel and see the difference they may be making in the area around them. I think this app would be most helpful for families and people looking to move to new areas of the country to see how the environmental issues may affect their health. This aspect of it actually reminded me of my group’s proposal, “Big Green Circle” in that we both are targeting families who want to know more about the areas that they are deciding to live in. This topic is getting more popular every day and an app like this is really needed to meet the public’s demand of more health information. The entire proposal was very professional sounding and and I think you could pitch it to the knight challenge website.

  2. I agree with Lauren, for sure! I love this idea–especially regarding how it unveils the realities of these environmental issues. This app would be a way of showing people the effects of their actions and the effects of daily life as it has evolved in this day and age. That’s awesome. That makes the reality of sustainability tangible, makes it real to people. That make’s change possible, like you said! My only concern is that negative news is often not as popular and not as effective as more positive news sources. To compensate for this, maybe it’s worth continuing to think about possible ways to hook people into your app. I agree that this would be a good app for people considering where to live, and for families, but I think you could go even further than that. This app seems to have such a potential to create change that I don’t think you should stop at that. How could you make this an app people visit daily, or weekly, even, even if they are already settled and comfortable in a community? Maybe you expand to including how the different issues are being resolved or improved on by the community? That way people are encouraged to contribute to changing their ways, to contribute to stoping the health issues. That’d also give it a slightly more positive spin. Love this idea, definitely submit it.

  3. I agree with Lauren that it sounded very professional, nice job! Were you thinking of using some sort of GIS mapping? It is certainly a very practical application of a pollution, that often goes “out of sight, out of mind.” I feel like all the data you would need might not be available though, therefore would you have people go out to measure pollutant data? I suggest asking for more than $5,000 if that is the case. Overall a very interesting app that I would use.

  4. This seems like a really useful tool. Where are you going to get your pollutant data from? Incorporating a map is a cool feature, make sure you employ expert graphic designers to make this feature most esthetically pleasing. Overall I think this is really innovative, and there is definitely a market of concerned parents out there.

  5. I really like this idea. Your proposal sounds great. It reminds me a lot of an idea that I heard on NPR a while ago about mapping the spread of infectious disease. This website basically takes buzzwords from social media sources all across the world and looks for trending words that relate to infectious disease. Then, it maps out the trending words and predicts where and infectious disease has started and where it’s spreading to. Using this helps predict the spread in half the time. Super cool idea. The fact it draws from social media is what drew me to it. This brought the same question to mind that Lindsey asked: How do you plan on keeping people interested in this app?

  6. Caroline, Erin and Yemisi — I like the way you combine social networking, pollution mapping and health information here! Nice idea. I agree with many of suggestions offered by earlier comments, especially Karelyn’s observation that $5,000 isn’t very much to get this started! I also want to encourage you to be very careful to not open yourselves up to law suits from polluters. It’s very difficult to link a specific pollution source to a specific person’s health problem. There usually are confounding factors. So please be very careful about how you phrase the health information, and make sure to attribute it to credible sources. I know that monitoring equipment is placed on many smokestacks so these sources of pollution might be able to share data with you in almost real time. It would be worthwhile exploring this possibility with state air pollution regulators and some major air polluters, such as perhaps Detroit Edison. In addition, while I like your impulse to invite people to share health information, I’m not sure how freely people will do that. Sometimes people who have certain health conditions can face discrimination — at work, when applying for insurance, etc. That’s why the federal HIPPA law is in place, to keep health information private. It will be interesting to see if more people feel less inhibited about sharing health information in the future, as the Affordable Care Act blocks insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Finally, here are a couple of related sites that you might want to check out:
    Good luck as you continue to work on this!

  7. Your suggestion of a pollution tracking web site sounds very useful, especially given the number of unmitigated pollution sites throughout the country, and the expansion of fracking within our own state. The last-day-of-class comments on the potential audience made sense. This web site is sure to attract current parents who having growing children, as well as upcoming parents who are concerned with the health of their child-to-be. The womb is especially sensitive to environmental impacts. Residents who have lived in a location for longer periods and are just now becoming aware of their environmental risk would also benefit. Time frame needs to be considered. While the emphasis is understandably on data that has been accumulated and can be connected with identified polluters, the staff might also consider whether breaking news, e.g., about new cases and potential sources, would be included in any way. Graphics would depend on whether the display is intended purely for spatial visualization (“epicenters” of pollution), or time period (week, month, year) would also be illustrated. I imagine the staff will have plenty to do, so recommend seeking aggregate forms of data, such as information from the Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, as opposed to collating the data for a given location on your own. The proposed project sounds very innovative. Thank you for letting me listen in to your class presentations. Such worthwhile, creative ideas!

    Stephen Modell, M.D., M.S.
    Epidemiology, and Health Management and Policy
    University of Michigan School of Public Health

  8. It seems like a pretty good idea! I feel like this information should be not only out there (which it probably already is) but readily available to the public and easy to access (which it is not). Someone should have the right to know whether or not the lake that they are swimming in contains mercury. Rather than trying to dig really deep to find that info, I think your product could offer that in one place. I see a definite problem-situation here. Good work.

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