Data Is Plural

... is a weekly newsletter of useful/curious datasets.

2024.04.17 edition

Unregulated water contaminants, border crossings, earthquakes felt, automated decision-making in government, and aerial obstacles.

Unregulated water contaminants. Through the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency “collect[s] data for contaminants that are suspected to be present in drinking water and do not have health-based standards set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.” The current version of the rule requires public water systems to test for lithium and 29 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. (Prior iterations, which go back to the early 2000s, have tested for other contaminants.) The EPA publishes the data collected, with the most detailed files listing each sample, its public water system, facility, sampling point, sample date, contaminant tested, concentration detected, and more. Related: Last week, the EPA finalized its first-ever limits for PFAS in drinking water. [h/t Lisa Sorg]

Border crossings. Michael R. Kenwick et al.’s Border Crossings of the World dataset “explores state authority spatially by collecting information about infrastructure built where highways cross internationally recognized borders.” Using satellite imagery, the team’s researchers identified the locations of gates, official buildings, and split-lane inspection facilities annually from the 1990s onward. An accompanying dataset calculates a “border orientation” score that summarizes the “extent to which the State is committed to the spatial display of capacities to control the terms of penetration of its national borders.” [h/t Erik Gahner Larsen]

Earthquakes felt. The US Geological Survey’s Did You Feel It? initiative allows members of the public to report their ground-shaking experiences. The agency’s web pages for individual earthquakes — such as this page for the April 5 tremor that rattled NYC — feature downloadable geographic and longitudinal data that USGS has aggregated from the reports. The agency also publishes a map of annual intensities. Tip: This search lists earthquakes in 2024 that received at least 1,000 reports. [h/t Philip Bump]

Automated decision-making in government. The UK nonprofit Public Law Project last year launched the Tracking Automated Government Register, which describes automated systems that government agencies there use “to make or inform decisions on a range of sensitive policy areas, including how people are policed, what benefits they receive, and their immigration status.” It currently lists 55 systems, their names, purposes, agencies in charge, policy areas, transparency level, potential unequal impacts, and more. Last week, Western University’s Joanna Redden and colleagues launched a version for Canada, listing 303 systems.

Aerial obstacles. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Obstacles Team “investigates and evaluates existing obstacles that may be hazardous to safe flight navigation,” such as tall buildings, windmills, water tanks, utility poles, amusement parks, monuments, blimps, and other structures. Its Daily Digital Obstacle File contains 580,000+ entries, which it says provides full coverage of the US and partial coverage of Canada, Mexico, the Pacific, and the Caribbean. It lists each obstacle’s type, country, state, city, coordinates, height, type of lighting, and more. [h/t Michael Allen]