Data Detective

Time needed

Take-home assignment with in-class discussion.

Why do it?

This exercise helps students learn about pollution sources where they live. It also introduces them to online databases of pollution information.



  1. Hand out the Data Detective worksheets and assign the students to fill them in using the databases below:
    1. Scorecard:
    2. USA Today:
  2. After students have turned in their worksheets, go over the results with them and discuss their reactions to the data. Discussion questions could include:
    1. Did anything surprise them?
    2. Was information easy to find? Was the site organized in a clear way?
    3. What is the importance of a site like for a community suspecting it is experiencing environmental injustice?
    4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these websites?


  • Have students look up a high school in the town where they currently live in addition to, or in place of, the high school they attended. The downside to this approach is that you will not be able to check their work.
  • Add other data to the worksheet for students to look up on the EPA Envirofacts Data Warehouse:
  • Turn this assignment into a comparison. Ask students to look up the same data for another county or high school that you know is noticeably cleaner or more polluted than their own.
  • Pair this assignment with one of the oral histories from 25 Stories in the Central Valley. Stories by Mary Lou Mares, Maricela Alatorre and Rosa Solario-Garcia describe the difficulty of working with technical language and policy processes.
  • Pair this assignment with a discussion of the following articles:
    • Pastor, M., Morello-Frosch, R., Sadd, J. 2006. “Breathless: Schools, Air Toxics and Environmental Justice in California.” Policy Studies Journal 34(3): 337-362.
    • Morello-Frosch, R., Pastor, M., Sadd, J, Porras, C. and Prichard, M. 2005. “Citizens, Science, and Data Judo: Leveraging Secondary Data Analysis to Build a Community-Academic Collaborative for Environmental Justice in Southern California.” Pp. 371-392 in Methods in Community Based Participatory Research, edited by Israel, B., Eng, E., Schulz, A. and Parker, E. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.