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Last week, I was part of the “addressee” list on a tweet (“tweetee”?) by James Governor (monkchips) informing us of a web site operated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA, or just EPA).


monkchips U.S. EPA MyEnvironment did you see this @jspath55 @dcarli @treehugger etc?7:17 AM Sep 9th from 

The “” URL shortener expands to:,37.38948,-122.08169&pText=Mountain%20View,%20CA 

The key phrase here is supposed to be, I guess, that this is “MY” EPA, as opposed to the EPA that belongs to someone else.


Where is Waldo?


Like most people when they tried Google Maps, or more especially, Google Earth, for the first time, I took the map controls and flew over my neighborhood.  That’s it in the image above.  This one isn’t Google tech, but Bing tech.

[ slight digression:  Why is it and which is also ? duh ]

As my cursor drifted over sites that I knew were industrialized and I zoomed in to higher resolution I could see more sites marked as orange boxes with pointers.

I took a screen shot of the site that has been placed by an anonymous map maker, nearly in my back yard.   It’s the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.  That name might only mean something to those who live in the Baltimore metropolitan area.  It has hundred of millions of gallons of sewage flowing into it, and treated wastewater flowing out of it.  If you lived near there, you’d know it.


Where is the sewage?

In fact, the plant is not where the map says it is!

I commented this back to James Governor,

@monkchips re: U.S. EPA MyEnvironment did I see this?  Not until just now, thanks! First place I looked has bad data 🙁7:26 AM Sep 9th from web in reply to monkchips

who replied:

monkchips @jspath55 it needs crowdsourced data, too.7:38 AM Sep 9th from web 


[Translation: Just fix it yourself ]

I worked at the EPA in the 1970s, and for the Maryland State environmental agency, in the 1980s and 1990s.  I know what’s behind this kind of data (both technical information and people resources).  My short answer was:

@monkchips Great.  Another unpaid job fixing other people’s data and systems.  LOL.7:44 AM Sep 9th from web in reply to monkchips

The problems:

  • Everyone who looks at this site without knowing any better would assume it i correct.  After all, it’s the FEDERAL EPA.  They can’t misplace an entire city’s sewage, could they?
  • The data error was made by a human who didn’t understand that “Eastern Avenue” has several overlapping address ranges, numbered well before computers were so pervasive.
  • The system or systems of record that broadcast these data had no error checking on validity, because the ZIP code would not have matched with the actual site location.
  • Who owns these data, and is it really “MY” environmental protection?  


Another slight digression – AOL contacted me about use of a photo I took of the Bengies drive-in theater, which I agreed to.  It’s on Flickr, which already allows reuse under specific conditions.  I waited.  The photo appeared.  Whoever spotted the site placed it on the same Eastern Avenue, but deep inside Baltimore City, where the ambient light, noise and population density would work against showing movies at night outdoors.  I commented on the misplacement.  I waited.  I commented on a different forum.  I waited some more.  Finally, after weeks of delay, the photo was placed in the correct location.  And, by the way, I’ve gecoded many of my Flickr images.  Those details were ignored.

Report an Error

The site says:

You might suspect an error in the placement of a facility pushpin on the map or some other error associated with the facility information. Please feel free to report that error using this official channel for error reports.

Thank you!


It sounds well intentioned, and so easy to do.  I thought I could just say “hey – wrong location.” They want my first and last names.  I thought. what for?  Wrong is wrong.  But this is the government (my government in fact, not that of James Governor).  They don’t have to listen to just anyone.


EPA doesnot accept anonymously submitted errors.  




The underlining tells the story.

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1 Comment

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  1. Jim Spath
    Post author
    (commenting to my own blog)
    After procrastinating my error report to the U.S. EPA, I told them about the misplaced WWTP on 02-Dec-2009.  It’s been over a month now, and no reply; the map is still wrong.  When (if) I hear back I’ll update this note.

    ErrorTracker at to me
    show details 12/2/09     
    Your error notification has been successfully received at the EPA and has been assigned a reference number of 53299 (see error text below).



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