Jordan's project gives Drew a significant role in making EPA data relevant to New Jerseyans. Photo by Lynne DeLade.
Jordan’s project gives Drew a significant role in making EPA data relevant to New Jerseyans. Photo by Lynne DeLade.

Goal is to safeguard Garden State health.

Imagine having a mobile app that sets off an alert when you’re nearing an environmentally toxic location that might be harmful to your health.

The app hasn’t been developed yet. But it’s on a to-do list for students in a new partnership between Drew and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Last spring the EPA challenged universities to come up with innovative ways to increase public awareness of data it collects on toxic chemical releases. This summer it announced Drew was one of eight institutions with winning proposals.

The author was Lisa Jordan, a geographer and adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies & Sustainability. While the partnership does not include a cash award, Drew will collaborate with EPA staff and receive recognition on the agency’s Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI) website.

Students in Jordan’s Geographic Information Systems classes will work off EPA data on toxic emissions in New Jersey. “There’s so much data on this topic. No matter what they do, they will likely uncover something,” says Jordan, director of Drew’s Spatial Data Center. “By connecting it to other data sources, they’ll be able to uncover information and ideas that haven’t been explored.”

Jordan’s introductory GIS class will develop three GIS tutorials mapping TRI data, while advanced students will tackle specific projects. In addition to developing a mobile app, Jordan has proposed they update her own doctoral research on environmental justice in New Jersey; examine TRI sites in relation to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy; and conduct a geographic case study of Toms River, a township with a long history of chemical pollution.

Findings will be posted on Drew’s website. “It’s important that information get shared with the public,” Jordan says. “People care about toxic releases in their local environment.”—Mary Jo Patterson