15 November 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Tracking Pollution in Halton Region

We have been busy at Open Halton plugging away on some projects.  Today I’m happy to announce the recent launch of one called Emitter.

Some Background

Recently my team at RedBit Development and myself were part of a team to help make pollution data made available by Environment Canada easily searchable by citizens concerned with pollution in their neighbourhood.  With myself living in Oakville, and as one of the communities with the most mature and flourishing trees, it does have quite a few factories in to town which all obviously emit some sort of pollution into the atmosphere.  As a 5 year citizen of Oakville, this has always been a concern for me especially concerning the health of my three children. Pollution and what facilities emit into the atmosphere is always a concern for most people and hence the idea of allow people to easily visualize this on a map was born.

Where did the data come from? 

Environment Canada actually releases pollution data that industries are mandated to report on.  All this data is public data and all pollution data for Canada is available on the Environment Canada site.  If you clicked the link and looked at the data you will notice it is not very friendly and not very easy to read.  As a normal regular citizen (me), you just want to know if I’m safe in my neighbourhood and don’t necessarily care what type of pollution/chemicals are put into the atmosphere.  The only time I would care is if there are large amounts of pollution in my area then I would want to dig deeper and find out why.  With the state of the current data, you can’t easily find out ‘Why?’ and visualize if it’s in your neighbourhood.

Now if you are a developer, using this data is a real challenge.  It’s not really in a standard format to be able to use in a custom application.  And to decipher the data, you need to spend a lot of time figuring out the structure of the data so it’s useable for your specific purpose.  All pollution datasets have been made available by Environment Canada as Microsoft Access databases  and is posted publicly on their website.

Introducing Emitter.ca

EmitterEven though the data is open and available it’s not very easy to use.  To make things easier to visualize and easier to search I got my team at RedBit Development involved in a project to help liberate pollution data.  Emitter takes all the Environment Canada data and allows citizens to easily visualize the data pollution data around their neighbourhood.  There are a few ways to search for data and it’s all well explained on the Emitter site. The end result is now you can very easily search and visualize pollution levels in and around the area you are interested in.

What does the search return?  It returns the company that is releasing the pollution into the atmosphere, a ranking relative to other companies and also returns the federal riding and the Elected MP Official for that riding.

Building Emitter was a collaborative effort between many individuals across Canada and hosted by the Microsoft Canada Open Lab.  The  key contributors are listed on the Emitter site but everyone definitely deserves a mention for the effort

  1. Aaron McGowan – Main developer on Emitter.ca, open data activist, student, hacker
  2. Barranger Ridler – Responsible for integrating the pollution data with OGDI and helping get the site up and running on Windows Server
  3. David Eaves – Open Government activist and envisioned the Emitter.ca concept and helped bring it from start to finish
  4. Matthew Dance – The ‘brains’ behind the Emitter.ca methodology, graduate student at University of Alberta and responsible for interpreting/analyzing the pollution data and allowing us to present in useful ways
  5. Nik Garkusha – Open Data enthusiast and Open Source Strategy Lead at Microsoft Canada.  Nik took role of architect and helping to envision Emitter and most importantly providing funding and hosting for Emitter at the Microsoft Open Lab
  6. Mark Arteaga – I took on the role of Project Manager and helping to coordinating all the efforts from figuring out the data to managing the development cycle.

Please go ahead and try out Emitter, it is currently in Beta and we are looking at extending the features in the application.  And be sure to follow Emitter on twitter and send comments questions via twitter as we are actively monitoring that account