Dan Markiewicz
Has your home decreased in value due to nearby pollution or environmental hazards?

If you’re not sure, you can easily visit a few Web sites and find out (see sidebar). Environmental mapping on the Internet is evolving rapidly as a way for realtors, home buyers and home sellers to find pollution hotspots.

Mapping features on the Web communicate better than text or graphics such as charts. Some environmental maps already use aerial images photographed from aircraft and satellites with high-resolution cameras (see http://globeexplorer.com). 3-D and in-ground mapping programs for environmental pollution are also available on the Web.

Bringing questions to work

This trend relates to your job in many ways. You can expect more employees to question pollution and environmental hazards at your workplace. Eliminating environmental hazards or greatly improving pollution controls might be demanded by homeowners to help avoid potential loss of property value. Community leaders and politicians might get more involved in environmental issues. And environmental reporting by companies such as yours could take on a new sense of importance.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s clear that the average person is going to be exposed to more pollution and environmental hazard information. And this information will start impacting wallets by affecting property values. With money at stake, we could see much greater public interest in environmental data mandated by community right-to-know laws.

How the public reacts will depend partly on how much home buyers and sellers care about these hazards and issues. Suppose you stay silent about any pollution and environmental hazards found near your home. Maybe if you don’t tell a buyer about these concerns, they may never ask.

Don’t be foolish. Keeping quiet about known (or should-be-known) hazards by the realtor or seller of a property or home is not a good idea. The days of caveat emptor are past. There are liabilities that must be considered.

Every state now has disclosure laws for selling property or homes. You may think that disclosure should only apply to environmental hazards within your home and over which you have control, such as asbestos, radon, or lead. But disclosure in some states extends to external and natural hazards such as floods and environmental hazards such as those we are reviewing in this article. To find out about disclosure laws in your state visit www.e-risk.com.

Start planning now

For both personal and professional reasons, it’s time to start planning for the long-term impact of environmental mapping. Whether Web-based environmental mapping programs are used to determine the impact on home or property values or other purposes, their usefulness is clear. They draw a different perspective by giving a birds-eye view of an address surrounded by various pollution and environmental hazards. And the picture these maps provide surpasses text and graphs for communicating. The next time you need to communicate an environmental health and safety issue, try using a mapping program.

Sidebar: How to find hotspots

NearMyHome.Com(www.nearmyhome.com) — After you type in your zip code, you will be taken to an interactive map that can be queried for environmental hazards or air quality. Skull-and-crossbones symbols are used on the environmental hazards map to identify the location of leaking underground storage tanks, Superfund sites, and landfills/dumps. The air quality map uses factory symbols to locate nearby “air pollutant emitters.”

Health-Track (http://health-track.org) — Health-Track includes a mapping feature to show cancer hot spots overlaid with toxic chemical release (TRI) reports from businesses. Search for cancer type and demographics for your city or town or zoom the cancer map into your neighborhood.

EPA’s EnviroMapper (http://maps.epa.gov/enviromapper/) — EnviroMapper has a “live” mapping feature that includes, along with a facility location, the location of nearby schools, hospitals, populated areas, and sensitive environmental receptors such as streams.

EPA’s Vulnerable Zone Indicator System (VZIS) (www.epa.gov/ceppo/vzis.htm) — VZIS is a mapping feature that can be used to determine whether an address might be in the vulnerable zone of a facility that submitted an EPA Risk Management Plan.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (www.hud.gov/emaps) — HUD E-maps allow you to look at numerous environmental concerns for a zip code area, including the location of community development projects, multi-family housing, and public housing projects along with symbols showing the location of Brownfield pilot projects, chemical discharges to water, and hazardous waste generators.

Environmental Defense’s Scorecard (www.scorecard.org.) — Log onto the “Chemical Releases from Manufacturing Facilities” tab and you can link to a map that shows the location of polluters, along with health hazards they might be creating, near your home.

Michael R. Meuser’s “MapCruzin” (http://www.mapcruzin. com/global_toxmaps.htm) — Mr. Meuser bills himself as an Environmental Sociologist (a new term to me). His site supports individual and activist interests but the information and links at the site are worth reviewing.