Superfund Stories collaborative website

For my final project, I plan to create a collaborative wiki-based website where users can report on Superfund sites in their communities. The EPA maintains an extensive online database of sites and provides a good deal of information about each of them. I’ve spent several hours exploring this system and found a lot of really fascinating information. The problem is that the EPA’s system is difficult to navigate and not particularly engaging for a wide audience. Multimedia files are available, but they are not well-integrated.

I’ve always been more interested in stories than “issues.” I think many people are in a similar boat, where dry facts and alarming statistics do not provide the reader with a reason to remain interested. I think that creating a forum to help people understand the human actions and individual narratives behind environmental disasters will promote understanding and activism.

One website I plan to take inspiration from is Atlas Obscura. It’s a sleek site which crowdsources articles about interesting and offbeat places and travel destinations.

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I plan to take some cues in web design from the way Atlas Obscura is set up. It has strong location-based features, allowing users to locate spots near them. It also has a well-organized system of tags which allows subject-based indexing. It uses photographs extensively. It has brief, engaging articles written in a conversational tone. I hope to incorporate similar features into my project. Atlas Obscura seems to be running a custom WordPress installation or something similar; I may choose to use a customizable blogging platform such as this or I may stick with my original idea of using Wiki-based software. DokuWiki seems to be a simple and customizable system which I am considering using. An interactive map will be a central feature of the site, allowing users to click on a map marker to see articles related to that area.

I plan to flesh out my site with at least three articles before opening it up to users.

I want to start with the ridiculous story of Manfred Derewal. DeRewal’s three properties near my home in Bucks County have been cleaned up under the Superfund program after he dumped untreated industrial waste there. He was also convicted of international drug smuggling in the late 1980’s. The man had a colorful life and criminal career— I would watch a true crime TV show based on his exploits. I am excited to write an article which integrates information about his environmental and drug crimes as well as multimedia relating to the cleanup of his properties.

I think I will also create articles for the Kin-Buc Landfill and Passaic River, two disaster sites in Northeast New Jersey not far from NYC. I will also write about the  Butler Mine Tunnel, where oil and other hazardous waste were dumped into abandoned coal mines, where they were then washed into local water systems during heavy rain. It’s suspected that huge volumes of oil remain in the mine cavities just waiting for another flood.

Stay tuned for a mock-up of the site’s design and further information. I would love to hear suggestions for site features as well as content.

I am leaning toward opening it up to stories about all sorts of local environmental disasters, including those which aren’t on the EPA’s radar screen for whatever reason. I also plan to include a feature where users can send a form letter to government officials.

One thought on “Superfund Stories collaborative website

  1. Caleb, this looks very promising. You may want to narrow the scope of your project to what you are realistically able to achieve during the final weeks of the semester.
    Go get ’em and keep us posted!