Map My Environment Tutorial
To help you better use and understand this resource, we've included an interactive walkthrough of the controls and features provided. Clicking the button below will begin this tutorial where you can learn to use this app with confidence.
Map My Environment is an interactive visualization of global urban environmental contamination. The app displays average contaminant concentrations/values at point locations where citizen scientists have collected soil and dust samples from around their yards and homes. We protect the privacy of our citizen partners by randomly jittering the points shown on the map each time the map loads or the page is refreshed. So, this app is not intended to provide the exact concentrations/values of contaminants at a specific address, but instead to give viewers a deeper understanding of how contaminants in urban environments can impact their lives, and their overall exposome.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much lead in the soil is okay?
It depends on what the space is used for. The EPA limit for safe gardening is 200 ppm. For areas where children play, the limit is 400 ppm. For areas not used for gardening or play, the limit is 1200 ppm.
What can I do to minimize my exposure?
If you grow a food garden, consider planting in raised beds. Wash all produce thoroughly, and peel root vegetables. Try to find grassy areas for outdoor play, or deeply mulched playgrounds, especially in dry seasons when dust levels are high. Grass makes a good barrier to keep lead and other heavy metals in the ground. Take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking contaminated dust throughout your home.
There are no points in my neighborhood on the map. Does that mean my exposure level is safe?
If there are no points on the map near your home, that just means we don't have any data yet. But you can find out and improve the map by sending us some samples of your soil !
Is it free?
It's free for you to have your soil tested because we want everyone to have the opportunity to be empowered to make informed decisions about their environment. But it costs money for us to do the soil analysis. In fact, it's about $10 per sample, or $50 per yard. This important work is funded by generous donations and grants. If you're able to do so, please consider making a donation to this community-engaged science.
This map displays information about urban environments where metals and other contaminants have been measured in soil or dust from people's homes. To protect the privacy of our citizen scientist partners, points on this map are randomly moved within ~2 city blocks of their true location each time this website is loaded. This map is meant to offer insights into large scale spatial patterns of urban contamination, not provide information about specific locations or addresses.
Lead (Pb) occurs naturally in the environment in small amounts, but leaded gasoline,
lead-based paint, and industrial pollution have all artificially increased lead levels in soil, especially in urban centers.
Lead is toxic when it is inhaled or ingested. It accumulates in bones and is distributed throughout the blood and most organ systems, including the brain. Especially in the still-developing brains of young children, lead is mistaken for calcium, but it is a poor substitute and impairs communication between neurons.
Even low levels of lead exposure in childhood can result in reduced IQ, attention span, and impulse control and increased antisocial behavior. People who experience childhood lead poisoning make less money over their lifetime and are more likely to be incarcerated than their peers.
Barium (Ba) is found in small amounts in the natural environment. It is also used in several
compounds used by a variety of industries.
Symptoms of acute barium poisoning include abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and abnormal blood pressure and heart rhythm. Typically, only people who work in industries making or using barium compounds are at a significant risk of acute barium poisoning. Research has yet to determine if there are any health effects of chronic exposure to low levels of barium.
Copper (Cu) is a naturally-occurring element and an essential nutrient for humans in trace amounts. It is artificially amplified in the environment in a number of ways, including through bake dust from the wearing of the brake pads of cars. Chronic exposure to high levels of copper can result in liver damage or failure, but this is rare.
Manganese (Mn) occurs naturally in the environment, and it is an essential nutrient to humans in small amounts. But chronic exposure to high levels of manganese affect the central nervous system, resulting in delayed reaction times, hand tremors, and decreased hand-eye coordination.
Like many other heavy metals, concentrations of naturally-occurring chromium (Cr) are artificially increased by industry. Chromium exists in several different forms, including relatively nontoxic Cr(III) and toxic Cr(VI), also called hexavalent chromium. In the United States, roughly a third of atmospheric chromium emissions are of this toxic hexavalent form.
People who work in industries that use chromium face the greatest exposure, but for the majority of the population that isn't occupationally exposed, the greatest source of intake is from foods that contain chromium. Dietary sources include produce grown in chromium-contaminated soils and fish and meat that have accumulated chromium from their diet.
Chromium exposure is known to cause cancer, and it can also cause damage to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system.
Cadmium (Cd) naturally occurs in minerals in conjuncture with elements such as oxygen, sulfur, and chlorine. Cadmium exposure can be the result of breathing cigarette smoke, consumption of contaminated food, and misuse of nickel-cadmium batteries. Food is the most significant source of Cd exposure in non-smokers.
Cadmium exposure through ingestion will cause vomiting and diarrhea. Breathing high levels of cadmium at once is lethal. Long-term exposure to cadmium through breathing cigarette smoke or repeated ingestion of contaminated food will cause kidney damage, bone damage leading to fractures, and some types of cancer.
Nickel (Ni) is a very abundant, naturally occurring element found in water and soil, but excessive soil contamination can be caused by proximity to industrial exhaust.
Nickel exposure can occur when consuming food grown in contaminated soil, drinking water with high levels of nickel, and breathing cigarette smoke containing nickel, and working in an industry that regularly handles nickel.
Approximately 10-20% of people are allergic to nickel and will develop a skin rash upon contact. Some allergic reactions will also have asthma attacks or develop reactions when eating, drinking, or breathing nickel. People who regularly work with and are exposed to high levels of nickel can develop kidney and blood damage from eating or drinking nickel and chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, and some types of cancer from breathing nickel.
Zinc (Zn) is naturally very common in the Earth's crust, and as a result is also commonly found in food, water, air, and soil. It is also commonly used to create rust-resistant coatings, dry-cell batteries, and pennies (US currency).
Excessive exposure to zinc mainly occurs in humans due to the consumption of contaminated vegetables, which in turn incorporated zinc due to contaminated soil or waste-water irrigation. Excessive exposure can also occur in people who regularly work with it in industrial work.
High zinc exposure can cause damage to people's gastrointestinal system, blood, and respiratory system.
Arsenic (As) can occur naturally in organic and inorganic forms in soil, sediments, and groundwater. It can also occur artificially as a result of mining, ore refining, and the waste of industrial arsenic use.
Inorganic arsenic is mainly incorporated into the body through food and water intake. Some groundwater has naturally higher levels of arsenic.
High doses of inorganic arsenic can cause various gastrointestinal issues and shock. Long-term arsenic exposure can be responsible for skin lesions, increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers.
Sample Type Information
Soil samples are samples collected from the yard of a house. They could have been collected under grass, in flower or vegetable gardens, or along the edge of a house under the eaves (the dripline). Map My Environment displays the average of all soil samples collected at a property. You can click on each point to get more information about how many samples that point represents. Contaminant concentration in soil samples is determined using X-ray Flouresence (XRF).
Soil samples are samples collected from within a home. In each home dust is collected using various methods (vacuum bags, special wipes, etc.). Map My Environment displays the average of all dust samples collected at a property. You can click on each point to get more information about how many samples that point represents. Contaminant concentration in dust samples is determined using X-ray Flouresence (XRF).