Essex-based Phoenix Data Services’ new Web site provides information about Superfund sites throughout the country.

Do you really know if that field behind your house is clean? What about the stream flowing next door? Or that old septic tank? Well, a new Web-based service has taken up the task of mapping all of the nation’s Superfund sites in one place.

The Web site, organized by Essex-based Phoenix Data Services, is located at The site is a live, interactive, geographic mapping interface that provides environmental information to the general public free of charge.

With a relatively simple layout, users can type in their address and quickly locate the nearest Superfund sites as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. A Superfund site is any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.

The Web site, which is the brainchild of Lisa Wadge at Phoenix Data, was launched last month. Plans call for it to slowly grow over the coming weeks and months.

Release 1.0 of the service includes the rolling launch of nationwide EPA Superfund data with detailed mapping capabilities and online reporting. The initial release includes the six New England states and California, with additional states to be added every week. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, Release 1.0 also includes scanned images that describe the Superfund site investigation, contaminant sources and site conditions in a technical report purchased by the EPA. According to Wadge, such “push to paper” technology allows users to interactively read or download the very documents that EPA used to list, de-list or prioritize each Superfund site.

Phoenix Data Services provides a variety of Web-based data solutions to its clients. Wadge said the new Web site reflects a long-term company goal to penetrate the consumer market with vital environmental information about the nation’s most regulated and contaminated properties. Users will be able to plot an address, view area Superfund sites and obtain details about those sites.

‘The Horse’s Mouth’

There are three different kinds of Superfund sites. NPL sites are the highest-priority, most-contaminated sites. An example in Connecticut is Solvents Recovery Service of New England in Southington.

The second group of active Superfund sites are called CERCLIS sites. They are on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Information System list monitored by the EPA.

“These could pose pretty big problems, but they haven’t been studied or paid for yet,” explained Wadge.

The third Superfund category comprises sites where no further action is planned. Often those sites are deferred to another organization or program.

“You can never get off the list, even if you are remediated,” said Wadge. The EPA may eventually change its standards, causing sites on the list to be reexamined.

The Superfund data used on the Web site includes NPL, Active CERCLIS and De-listed sites from the EPA’s CERCLIS databases recorded in January of this year. All Superfund data, details and scanned documents provided on the Web site are from the EPA as provided under Freedom of Information Act regulations.

Detailed, extensive and creative efforts have been made to portray the most accurate, specific and technically sound data in the marketplace. That includes plotting large sites as polygons to reflect the full extent of the property on the map. In addition, details are reported live, including information about the site or sites in a half-mile area around the site. Using the latest technology and roadbases, sites are mapped interactively so that the user can plot an address and zoom around to see area conditions. Future data releases on the Web site are currently slated to include brownfield sites, sites with environmental liens, remediated/redeveloped sites and utilities. With certain legal exclusions and additions, the term “brownfield site” means real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.

“EnvirOmapit is the culmination of many years of effort and represents the first step in online environmental information, detailed enough for the most technical user and simple enough for a non-scientist to use,” said Wadge.

“There have been services out there whereby lenders can research and find out if a property is a Superfund site before they lend on it, and engineers have been studying Superfund sites since the 1960s. But until now there has been no way for members of the general public to get onto a mapping system and see if there are any sites near their house,” she said.

Having studied environmental engineering in college, Wadge knew that there was an enormous database of such sites, as well as information gathered by the EPA regarding individual sites.

“We spend millions of tax dollars working on these sites, but people can literally buy a house or property next door and not know it,” she said.

Phoenix Data, which is a partner of The Commercial Record’s parent company, The Warren Group, already uses geographic information services for its other endeavors, including real estate data. Knowing that Phoenix Data’s technology could be used to map Superfund sites on the Internet, Wadge brought the idea to several nonprofit organizations to try and get sponsorship for the project.

“We felt that a nonprofit would really go for the idea of a place the public could go for free information like this,” said Wadge. “But they all told me that no one cares. I spent a year on this project, thinking it would be good for nonprofits, but none of them were interested.

While perusing the Web site, a quick search of Bridge Street in Haddam revealed three Superfund sites. Two sites, Arrow Photo Service and Cofish International, show up as small dots within the 1/16-mile and half-mile radii surrounding the street. A third, the Sibley Co., shows up as a large polygon. Wadge explained that such polygons are hand-drawn representations of sites covering more than half an acre.

Reports from the EPA are available for all three sites.

“We wanted people to see it right from the horse’s mouth,” said Wadge. “In many cases sampling was done at the sites, as well as remediation. So you’ll be able to see what was done and what was concluded about each site.”

So far, only Connecticut is fully stocked with EPA reports. Massachusetts is two-thirds done, with other states to follow.

“I liked the idea that users can read documents that they already paid for with their taxes. Most of [the reports] cost between $20,000 and $100,000 for phase-one testing, so they represent millions of dollars spent by the EPA,” she said.

More information will soon be added, including congressional districts and contact information for congressmen. Contact information for EPA representatives will soon be available as well.

“Being on the Superfund list doesn’t necessarily mean a site is still dirty, but people should still know about the site and read its reports,” said Wadge. Reports tell which way the groundwater flows on each site, so property owners can know whether the site drains toward their property.

“You may have no reason to worry, or you may end up talking to a lawyer or engineer to protect your liability,” she said. “A Superfund site nearby could affect the value of your property. In an urban environment there is less likely to be direct impact, but one of the things that’s so interesting about these sites is that no one necessarily knows what to expect. You have to look on a case-by-case basis.”

Wadge said that information about subjects such as Superfund sites “falls between cracks these days” because of larger news stories. “This is just a true story: that I’ve always wanted to do this,” she noted. “We wanted to educate people as to what’s out there. We’re obviously not the EPA, but we’re a step in the right direction.”

Many sites end up on state Superfund lists as well. Wadge said that eventually her company will provide information about leaking storage tanks, solid landfills and other issues regulated by states. For example, the Sibley site is on roughly 20 separate lists because the state of Connecticut wants attention continually paid to it.

“People shouldn’t forget about the environment,” said Wadge. “The more they know, the more they’ll realize we have a long way to go. There are more than 250,000 Superfund sites nationwide.”

Eventually the program will be able to display sites that have been redeveloped and remediated. For example, it will be able to show that a site on the Superfund list is now a shopping center.

Since the Web site is still in its infancy, Wadge encourages users to use the “Contact Us” feature to provide Phoenix Data Services with suggestions about how the service can be improved.