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Exploring TOXMAP Data in the Classroom

Access Environmental Toxicology Data at TOXMAP
This webpage was created for SERC by Heather Rissler.
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The Dataset

Accessing Environmental Toxicology Data at TOXMAP allows users to create and view maps of chemicals released into the air, ground, and water. Maps show the locations of facilities that have had chemical releases, and users can look up the type of release, amount of release, and trends over time. Users can create nationwide or local area maps by searching the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory by chemical name and/or place name.

Use and Relevance

TOXMAP is a Geographic Information System (GIS) that archives chemical release data. Scientists use the Toxic Release Inventory Program (TRI) to monitor release of environmentally relevant chemicals and to examine their distribution in soil, water and air surrounding reporting facilities.

Use in Teaching

Map of naphthalene release in the Midwest, map generated using TOXMAP.

This dataset can be used to teach the following topics and skills in environmental science and physical geography:



  • Using data to generate maps with toxic release information
  • Performing temporal and spatial comparisons of toxin release and distribution in soil, water, and air
  • Combining datasets, such as toxic release map and US census data
  • Comparing toxic release maps to physical information obtained from the USGS National Atlas to determine potential downstream sinks for released chemicals
  • Analyzing properties of toxic chemicals, including manufacturing and use, environmental fate and exposure, and human health effects

Exploring the Data

Data Type and Presentation

Data are processed and presented on maps. Chemical release data can be superimposed on maps representing over 23,000 reporting facilities. Histograms representing chemical distribution in soil, air, and water are also provided for each reporting facility.

Accessing the Data

To initiate access to the data, users click on a map of the US or choose a specific state to examine (the map contains a zoom function that can be used to isolate an area of interest). Once the geographical location is chosen, color coded chemical release maps can be generated to examine a single chemical (in pounds released per year) or a trend (pounds released in a given year compared to an average of all previous years). The Integrating research and Education site provides a tutorial on accessing data from TOXMAP.

Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations

Students can generate release maps for specific chemicals by location. Annual data are archived from 1987-2003, allowing for both temporal and spatial comparisons. US census data can be superimposed onto areas of interest. Maps can also be combined with data from Cancer Mortality Maps and Graphs and other demographic layers including, age, gender, income, and disease mortality.

Tools for Data Manipulation

The TOXMAP interface is used for generating chemical release maps and for overlaying US census data onto chemical release maps. Maps can be saved as JPEG images. Individual maps can be printed and examined. TOXMAP does not provide tools for combining multiple datasets.

About the Data

Collection Methods

Chemical abundance in soil, water, and air is either collected or estimated on site at facilities.

Limitations and Sources of Error

Data are either measured or estimated by individual reporting facilities. The EPA examines chemical release data, but accuracy and quality of reported data is dependent upon methods at individual facilities. The data only includes Toxic Release Inventory Data, other toxic releases are not included in the datasets.

References and Resources

Scientific References that Use this Dataset

  • The TOXMAP site contains FAQs addressing both specific questions related to TOXMAP and TRI data as well as general questions related to Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
  • A visual guide that walks users through TOXMAP.

Education Resources that Use this Dataset

Other Related Scientific References

Related Links