TOXMAP, Federal Database Allowing Public to Track U.S. Pollution, Shut Down After 15 Years by National Library of Medicine

TOXMAP, an interactive map that allowed public users to pinpoint sources of pollution, was pulled from the internet after 15 years. Hosted by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the website was beneficial to researchers and advocates.

While most of the information from TOXMAP has been dispersed to other websites, some of the information has disappeared.

"Several resources in TOXNET [the Toxicology Data Network, of which TOXMAP was a part] came from other organizations, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and will continue to be available from those sources," read a statement from the NLM. "Some databases will be retired."

In addition to TOXMAP, information about chemicals, household product safety, risk assessment and other related topics was held at TOXNET.

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"Part of the decision was prompted by the increasing availability of the underlying data from their original sources," said NLM in a statement released to Undark. "Many sources such as the EPA, among others, offer several products that provide similar geographic information system functionality."

pollution
TOXMAP, an interactive pollution map, was shut down by the Trump administration earlier this month in a move some say was designed to obfuscate the results of the White House's rollbacks of environmental regulations. Getty

In an email received by Newsweek, the NML said "the decision to retire ToxMap was made by NLM and not the Administration. As the NLM implements its current strategic plan, it has had to make some difficult organizational changes that have resulted in some resources and programs being integrated into other NLM resources, made accessible on partner sites, or discontinued."

"These changes are intended to provide greater alignment of resources to fulfill NLM's mission," the email continued. "The sunset of ToxMap was announced in early summer 2019 to give users sufficient time to transition to other sources. NLM has taken great care to ensure that no data become unavailable as we reorganize our toxicology and other resources. Some data have been archived and made available via FTP."

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However, some observers still believe the disappearance of TOXMAP is connected with President Donald Trump's rollbacks of environmental policies set forth by the Obama administration.

"TOXMAP's end accords with a larger pattern spanning federal environmental agencies whose intentions have been far from quiet, even loudly trumpeted," read a December article from the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI). "The dismantling of such a usable public platform connecting health and environmental data certainly accords with the EPA's own declared strategies, of seeking to exclude so many environmental health studies from policy-making and to neglect or defund on-going environmental health investigations."

"Whether these parallels are intentional or not, our National Library of Medicine has now joined this administration's ideologically-driven anti-science crusade," the article continued, "effectively shrinking the public's access to environmental as well as disease and mortality data."

"As with so many other fronts in the Trump Administration's interlocking wars against science and environmental regulation," EDGI added, "the prevailing hope seems to be that pushing the facts out of sight will diminish Americans' concerns about the environment."

Newsweek reached out to EDGI for further comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

TOXMAP allowed users to find points of interest, such as factories or contaminated areas in the process of being cleaned up by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund program.

Established in 1980, the Superfund was created in response to public outcry over toxic waste dumps which posed a threat to the health of nearby residents.

"It also forces the parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work," says the EPA website.

Updated 10:12 p.m. 12/31/2019: This story has been updated to include a statement from the National Library of Medicine.

Updated 3:37 p.m. 01/02/2020: The headline was updated to reflect the statement by the National Library of Medicine.

TOXMAP, Federal Database Allowing Public to Track U.S. Pollution, Shut Down After 15 Years by National Library of Medicine | Tech & Science