How can I find out which companies may be polluting my community?

How can I find out which companies may be polluting my community?

—Mike Butler, Houston, TX

While information about pollutants has been publicly available in the U.S. since passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, the public was not able to access it easily until the advent of the Internet, which now makes the research quite easy.

The easiest-to-use source of such information is Scorecard, a free online service provided by the non-profit environmental organization Environmental Defense. Steer your web browser to the Scorecard web page and cough up your zip code, and you”ll display a “Pollution Report Card” providing easy-to-read information on polluters and their pollutants in your locale. At the bottom of every Scorecard report are links to help you take action, with options ranging from e-mailing your governor to urge support for tougher air quality controls, to faxing the companies responsible for polluting your air or water.

If Scorecard can’t provide the information you need, other options exist. The Right-to-Know Network (RTKNet) provides free access to numerous government and scientific databases that track environmental trends. The service allows users to identify specific factories and their environmental threats, and also provides information on the demographics of affected communities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made its data much more accessible to the general public via its own website, where users can find detailed information on specific types of pollutants and their environmental threats. The agency’s TRI Explorer, for instance (“TRI” stands for “toxic release inventory”), allows you to search from coast to coast by zip code, state or county for spills and accidental emissions of toxic chemicals.

For more general information on global environmental trends, the United Nations Environment Programme’s GEO Data Portal contains national, regional and global statistics, as well as maps and graphs covering themes such as fresh water, population, forests, emissions, climate and health trends. The site’s snappy technology displays data quickly in several user-friendly formats.

CONTACTS: Scorecard,; Right-to-Know Network, (202) 234-8494,; EPA Toxic Release Inventory Program, (202) 566-0250,; United Nations Environment Programme’s GEO Data Portal,