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How to Use Our Favorite Maps for Researching Pollution in Your Neighborhood

By Heather Flanagan
May 1, 2017
The OASIS map plots pollution sources, permeability, brownfields, and many more environmental factors on a map of NYC.

The OASIS map plots pollution sources, permeability, brownfields, and many more environmental factors on a map of NYC.

The BOP Curriculum Team is hard at work writing and piloting middle school science units that hit state and city standards while engaging students in authentic, hands-on restoration work.  One core belief of our team is that our work should empower students to connect the science they’re learning to meaningful environmental justice work in their own communities.  Our latest unit guides students through an investigation of pollution that enters their local waterways, and culminates in students proposing site-specific green infrastructure solutions like green roofs and bioswales.  We’ve called it the “Steward-shed” Investigation, because it’s designed to foster stewardship of their local watersheds.  The student-friendly guide below accompanies several of the lessons in this unit to help students get comfortable with using digital map resources.

Two maps we absolutely love for researching pollution in your neighborhood are the OASIS map and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Envirofacts map.  We recommend starting with the OASIS map.  It’s a community map that aggregates tons of useful information into one place, including data from both government agencies and stewardship organizations.  There’s even some topographical information on this map at certain scales.  After checking out OASIS, try Envirofacts, a map from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency that is charged with protecting the environment of the United States.  Envirofacts will give you a very detailed picture of everything (even down to manhole covers!) that is monitored by the EPA because it could impact your local environment.  

(You might be wondering- why are manhole covers all over the Envirofacts map?  Underground electrical and communications infrastructure, like manholes and vaults, can fill up with water and sediment that has been polluted with oil, lead, and other contaminants from the streets and from electrical equipment.  When electrical companies remove this sediment, they sometimes have to treat it as hazardous waste.  This means the manholes end up falling under the “Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,” the law that creates the framework for dealing with hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste.)

These guides will walk you step-by-step through the process of using each map.  You can click most of the pictures below to see a larger version.

Guide to Using the OASIS Map

  1. Go to the OASIS map.  In the upper left hand corner, there are several options for how you can put in a location to zoom in, including by address, by neighborhood, by community district, and by county/borough.  
  2. I chose to view the neighborhood of Canarsie, in Brooklyn.  On the bottom right of the map screen, there’s a small version of the NYC map with a small red box that shows the area you’re looking at.  On the top right corner, controls let you zoom in or out, and side to side.
  3. On the right side of the screen, there’s a box with a “legend” in it.  Make sure you’re on the “Legend” tab (left-most tab).  This is how you can show and hide features on the map.
    Screenshot 2017-04-18 08.02.30

  4. Maps like OASIS will often refer to “layers”- each feature you can show or hide is considered a layer.  “Turning a layer on” means showing that feature.  “Turning a layer off” means hiding it.  The legend below shows you the default view on the OASIS map.  In the default view, several layers are already turned on.  Try clicking or unclicking one of these layers.  What happens?
     Screenshot 2017-04-18 08.01.26
  5. If there are two boxes next to a layer, the box on the left displays the symbol for that layer, and the box on the right displays the label.  Here’s a section of the Canarsie map with the “School property with garden” symbol displayed, but not the label:
    Screenshot 2017-04-18 08.16.35

    …and here it is with the label- P.S. 272 appears towards the bottom of the map:
    Screenshot 2017-04-18 08.18.24

    Sometimes adding the labels makes it easier to notice features on the map, and sometimes there are so many labels it makes things hard to read.  Play around with it and see which display works better for you.
  6. If you want to show or hide all the features in a section, you can click “show all” or “hide all” in the top right corner of the section:
    Screenshot 2017-05-01 19.10.45
  7. Turning on different layers can show you something totally new about your steward-shed- see what you can discover!  (This is the “land cover classification” layer.)
    Screenshot 2017-04-18 08.24.11


Guide to Using the Envirofacts Map

  1. Start by entering your zip code in on this page.   It will pull up a map of the area- you’ll need to click the button that says “List and Map Facilities Reporting in This View” for the map to populate:

Screenshot 2017-05-01 19.14.22

  1.  Orange markers will show locations in the EPA’s database- but only within the zip code you originally specified.  (So if you try to scroll around the map to see other places, it won’t show them unless you click the box “Update facilities on map” in the top left corner.)

Screenshot 2017-05-01 19.14.57

  1.  Clicking on the orange markers will pull up names of the site(s), with a link to find out more information.

Screenshot 2017-04-06 18.15.00

  1.  When I click on “Mobile Oil,” it pulls up the screen below.  Some information will appear on this page, but you can find out more by clicking the “EPA facility information” button:

Screenshot 2017-05-01 19.17.03

  1.  This pulls up a page that tells you which EPA information systems the site is included in, and if it’s a business, it will generally tell you what kind of business.  In this case, the Mobile station is found in the ICIS-AIR system, the New York- Facility Information System, and the Air Facility System.


The “Supplemental Environmental Interests” field on the far right will often tell you more about why a place is being regulated by the state or federal government.  In this case, New York State regulates this gas station under programs designed to protect groundwater and to prevent air pollution.  Why do you think they need to do this?  What effects might a gas station have on the environment?

Screenshot 2017-04-06 18.50.08