Attaching Pollution to Health Harms to Responsibilities using Environmental Data

The Pollution Reporter Mobile App is focused on Ontario's Chemical valley, where some 40% of Canada's petrochemicals are processed. Download the latest version in the Apple Store or Google Play. The App focuses on the Imperial Oil Refinery of Sarnia, one of the oldest operating refineries in the world, which is on the traditional Anishinaabek territory, and particularly the land of Aamjiwnaang First Nation.  

This app has TWO uses.

Use Pollution Reporter to get accessible information about pollution from the Imperial Oil Refinery. The app shares information that connects the refinery's pollution to research on known health harms.

Use Pollution Reporter to report a pollution event, spill, or leak to the Ontario Ministry of Environment, making it easier for community members to report problems to the Spill Action Centre. The app assists in making the report, which is then sent through the users own email, and allows users to share or keep a record of their reports.

Pollution Reporter is primarily intended for the use of the community who lives near this refinery, but anyone is welcome to use the app to better understand the health harms associated with pollutants. Future versions of the will expand from the focus on one refinery to include all facilities in Chemical Valley.

How Does The App Connect Pollution to Health Harms?

The Pollution Reporter App translates and connects government, industry-reported, and peer reviewed sources of data into accessible information about the known health effects of pollutants. You can search by chemical pollutant or by health category or symptom. By providing this information, the app assists in attaching responsibility for health harms to chemicals and the corporations that make them. As well, the app visualizes the cumulative rates of pollution for each chemical pollutant. As a whole, this information provides testimony about the permission-to-pollute system of Canadian governance, which is designed to let environmental harms occur up to a certain level on a chemical by chemical basis, but does not adequately consider the cumulative and long term effects of pollution.  

The information provided is not a medical diagnosis, but it does summarize in an accessible way the peer-reviewed medical research about associations between pollutants and health effects.

Pollution Reporter hopes to support community members'’ abilities to link health harms to companies and pollution without having to demonstrate their own health harms and be subjected to extractive research.

In respect of Indigenous Data Sovereignty, Pollution Reporter does not collect data about its users, and users are in full control of their reports to the Ministry of Environment.

About the Data

Pollution Reporter uses government-collected chemical emissions data from the National Pollution Release Inventory, in which companies admit to polluting from a list of 300 chemicals. The app connects that data to peer-reviewed research about the health injuries associated with each chemical pollutant. To connect facility chemical emissions data to their health effects, we consulted peer reviewed studies, occupational health and safety literature, government environmental and human health datasets, as well as a set of publicly available toxicological databases from Canada, the United States, and the World Health Organization.  

Limits and Uses of the Data 

This app uses inadequate data about pollution emissions and connects it to health harms information using more accessible language.  

These connections show a polluter's responsibilities for putting health harms into the world. 

Health Harm Research 

Some chemicals have decades of health research, other chemicals very little.

  • We identify health harms as “strong”  if there are multiple studies (either human or animal-based) with strong evidence. 
  • We identify health harms as “suggestive” if there is some evidence of harm but it is not yet conclusive, or there are only few studies available.

Government data about pollution does not connect polluters to chemicals and their health harms. 

Government data about pollution is:

  • Created by Industry. Most emissions data are self-reported by the industries that are doing the polluting.
  • Disconnected. Information on pollution and information on health harms exist in separate databases and require extensive research to put together.
  • Hard to Get. Most information is not accessible to the public. It is expressed in technical language and held in private, paid, or subscription-based sources.
  • Inaccurate. Governments and industry tend to underreport harms, especially on hormone disruption and the health harms of low-level exposures.  
  • Out of Date. Government reviews of health harms can be decades out of date.
  • One at a Time. Information about  pollutants and health harms are usually organized one chemical at a time. We live in places with many chemical exposures happening at the same time, and adding up over time.
     

Our Research

This app draws on a variety of information sources, as well as consults current  peer-reviewed health research.  

We translate this research into accessible language.

Sources on Pollution:  

National Pollution Release Inventory (NPRI)

Industries self-report their pollution to the Canadian government annually. The NPRI is useful because specific facilities and companies admit to their pollution. 

But the NPRI is flawed: 

The amounts reported are usually only estimates, which means the actual emissions are not measured.

Chemicals are listed one-by-one. 

The accumulation of pollution to air, land, and water over time is ignored.
 

PubChem

This source provides technical information about chemicals, primarily directed at engineers, scientists, and industrial users.

Sources on Health Harms

The app uses and evaluates peer reviewed medical research.  It uses this research to provide accessible information about health harms that a chemical pollutant may cause or is correlated with.  The information is not a medical diagnosis.  It does suggest, however, that polluters and their pollutants are responsible for possible health harms.

TOXNET

TOXNET is a US government website that compiles peer-reviewed health information on chemicals. Government datasets like TOXNET often do not include the latest research on health harms related to low-level effects, hormonal disruption, intergenerational effects, persistence in land or bodies, as well as other felt ways that chemicals can affect daily life that are not a disease, like a headache (which are called subclinical effects).

TedX

TEDX is a science-based, nonprofit research institute that provides information about the production and use of chemicals that interfere with healthy hormone function. TEDX uses systematic review methods developed by the US National Toxicology Program to identify hormone disrupting chemicals.

IARC

The International Agency for Research on Cancer is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization. It uses systematic review methods to identify cancer-causing chemicals.  

Proposition 65 Cancer List

California’s Proposition 65 is a law that requires the publication of a list of chemicals that may cause cancer or reproductive harm. This list is updated yearly. 

About the Project

The Pollution Reporter App is being made by the Environmental Data Justice Lab at the Technoscience Research Unit, University of Toronto. This is an Indigenous-led lab composed of university and community researchers, in collaboration with the City as Platform Lab and Reflekor developers.  The App team is composed of Michelle Murphy, Reena Shadaan, Kristen Bos, Vanessa Gray, Ladan Said, and Beth Coleman. The making of this app has been funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant and a Connaught Global Challenge Award.  The app is being developed in consultation and with guidance from the Aamjiwnaang Environmental Community and a community review process. We recognize the contributions of  Tajdeep Brar , Nicholas Shapiro, Emily Simmonds, Sophie Jaworski, Jessica Caporosso in assisting with the first iteration of the dataset. We also thank Dylan Miner and Lindsay Leblanc for contributions to app images.

The app is currently in first public version, and is available for download onto phones or ipads via Google Play or Apple Store.

The Pollution Reporter software will be available free online with an open source GNU GPL 3.0 license via Github.

Questions, suggestions, or concerns about the app should be directed to technoscienceresearchunit@gmail.com. 

Privacy Policy

The Technoscience Research Unit built the Pollution Reporter app as an Open Source app. This SERVICE is provided by Technoscience Research Unit at no cost and is intended for use as is.

This page is used to inform visitors regarding our policies with the collection, use, and disclosure of Personal Information if anyone decided to use our Service.

If you choose to use our Service, then you agree to the use of information in relation to this policy. This app does not collect personal information and no logon is necessary. Users who send pollution incident reports using the app form will be sending the report through their own email. Users may choose to send a copy of their email to the Technoscience Research Unit. This information will only be used to improve the App service, and data collected from such reports will be made anonymous, stored securely, and the statistics from cumulative reports will be shared back to the Aamjiwnaang Environmental Committee and community.  We will not use or share your information with anyone except as described in this Privacy Policy.

The terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions (definition), which is accessible at Pollution Reporter unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy.

Information Collection and Use

This app collects no user information. You may send the Technoscience Research Unit comments by email. The information you send by email will be retained by us and used as described in this privacy policy.

Log Data

We want to inform you that whenever you use our Service, in a case of an error in the app we collect data and information (through third party products) on your phone called Log Data. This Log Data may include information such as your device Internet Protocol (“IP”) address, device name, operating system version, the configuration of the app when utilizing our Service, the time and date of your use of the Service, and other statistics.

Links to Other Sites

This Service may contain links to other sites. If you click on a third-party link, you will be directed to that site. Note that these external sites are not operated by us. Therefore, we strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of these websites. We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies, or practices of any third-party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

These Services do not address anyone under the age of 13. We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from children under 13. In the case we discover that a child under 13 has provided us with personal information, we immediately delete this from our servers. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your child has provided us with personal information, please contact us so that we will be able to do necessary actions.

Changes to This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. Thus, you are advised to review this page periodically for any changes. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page. These changes are effective immediately after they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions or suggestions about our Privacy Policy, do not hesitate to contact us at technoscienceresearchunit@gmail.com.

Glossary

Alpha Version -- First prototype that used for testing.