Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday Search Challenge (9/12/12): Northern vs. Southern California

For as long as I've lived there's been a long-running, low-level feud between Southern California and Northern California.  You see it most obviously in the sports competitions--San Francisco Giants vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, but you also read it about it in terms of inequities in resource distribution.  Does Southern California really get more money and care than Northern California?  

(And in the spirit of full disclosure, I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but now live in Palo Alto, which is definitely in Northern California.  I was a Dodgers fan, but now I root for the Giants.  Not that this would influence my judgment in any way...)  

But seriously... let's look at a resource allocation issue as an investigative journalist might.  

As you know, the Environmental Protection agency makes declarations of "Superfund sites" (that is, places that are so badly polluted that there's a special federal fund dedicated to cleaning them up) and "brownfields," places that are still polluted, but don't have quite as much funding dedicated to cleanup. 

Today's question is pretty straightforward.  

Question:  Does Northern or Southern California have more Superfund sites and brownfields as defined by the EPA?  

And if you're into it, for extra credit, can you determine which of those sites has more funding spent on cleanup over the past decade?  Again, which region wins?  The North or the South?  

For our purposes, the split between North and South California is at 36.344 north latitude.  (A line that runs through Visalia, CA.)  

Remember... please let us know HOW you found the answer (what steps you did along the way), and how LONG it took you to find it!  

Search on!  


  1. I think Northern California wins :-) although this is one contest where I'd rather be the loser. I Googled Superfund sites California and this took me to the EPA website. There I found a listing by state and county. Since Southern California had a smaller number of counties, I opened those to count the sites. For counties which were split, I went to Google maps to see if the sites were north or south of Visalia. My count was 33 sites in Southern California. I went back to the EPA site and found a table which listed all the California sites. I counted a total of 98. So subtracting the 33 in Southern California, this would mean Northern California would have 65 sites, nearly twice as many. It took me about 25 minutes to complete the search.

  2. I obviously didn't read the question carefully enough because I missed the part about brownfields. I found a table which listed all the superfund sites and brownfields. I copied it into EXCEL and sorted on the type of site. Northern California has 37 brownfield sites and Southern California has 30. This took me another 20 minutes. It helps that I once lived in California, so I didn't have to look up the locations of most of the cities and counties.

    1. Judith I had to look up the locations of all the cities. I'm looking for a way to find a map in which all the facilities shows, but not sure I can do that. I guess I'll have to wait for Dan answer.

  3. Good luck everyone!

    I'm busy implementing a vectorized neural network back-propagation algorithm for my ML class today, among other things, so I can't do this one.

    I am only mentioning this because it occurred to me that peoples' schedules are never aligned such that the majority of the group can undertake challenges such as this, concurrently.

    Which brings me to a suggestion:

    Perhaps Dan can create a Google Search Challenge website, perhaps modeled after

    I believe a great deal of learning would take place (asynchronously) if such a problem challenge site were created. In addition, if the site supported user nomination of new search challenges and voting thereon, a pretty diverse list of search types could rapidly be accumulated.

    Furthermore, if the techniques used to solve these search challenges were tracked in a semantics-enabled database of some sort, then a search 'technique recommender' tool might be able to be created which would allow users to enter the type of information they are seeking, from which the recommender algorithm could suggest Google Search Tools and other techniques based on an analysis of the solutions from the site's growing problem set.

    Just a thought... Good luck again everyone, and have fun!

  4. Hi, Dan,
    Go to and put Ca in the search box. You will find 148 sites alphabetically by place name based on the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) and the Superfund. Most are in Southern CA. Being a medical librarian gave me an advantage here because I knew about this site.

  5. At first I just searched for EPA Superfund sites for California. Wikipedia has a small map with red dots for the sites, but hard to break it down North and South.

    I then looked at the EPA site, which is hard to navigate and after 15 minutes of looking I realized I needed to include Brownfield sites too. (Did not know the difference)

    I stumbled upon
    This has lots of different maps of California Superfund and Brownfield sites. But it also is about renewable energy sites on contaminated land. There is a Google earth map that has all the sites but in a format that is hard to decipher.
    Also on the above page is
    “This data spreadsheet (.xls) (4 tabs, 8M) has the site information and characteristics for the approximately 11,000 contaminated and degraded sites in California.”
    One could go and look at this large spread sheet and figure your question out, but …

    If I go back to the EPA page and specifically!OpenView&ExpandView
    You could look at each county and get the answer. Again would take a long time.

    There is another map at;jsessionid=DA5FEFDC2A26788836286CACC626A0F4
    Again lots of work.

    So for now after about 45 minutes my brain is fried. Good luck.

  6. 1. Get list of Superfund sites from EPA for California (google EPA superfund California) (broke down by County)
    2. Get List of Brownfield sites from EPA for California (google EPA brownfield California) (again by county
    3. Compile a total list by county
    4.Find out what county Vaisila is in
    5. Figure out which counties are above/below the line of demarcation
    6. Work out the counties nearby and split evenly if you can't figure out if it's above/below

    South wins by quite a bit.

  7. Hello Dr. Daniel.

    I searched [Superfund sites OR brownfields Epa California] and found:

    There I found that there are in California Superfunds: 124 and Brownfields: 67. Using Alt+F

    And look for more details. In Brownfields there is a Map that shows South has many more than the north.

    Superfunds is harder. Found that are big areas but, althought all the places are found in the link of above. I couldn´t find a way to sort them with the Latitude you gave us. So I searched for a resume and found!OpenView&Start=1&Count=1000&Expand=2#2 That shows that North has 10 big areas and south 12.

    About the second question. I understood bad the question. So tried a new approach. No results found. The only thing that found was: San Gabriel Valley water cleanup is one of the most expensive projects in USA.

  8. The EPA data pool is deeper than I'm allowed in - even with my floaties. Lack the Erin Brockovich-Ellis gene.
    Did notice that between Mountain View and Sunnyvale there are supposedly 13 superfund sites - none for the GooPlex specifically although the spectral analysis of pectin beans is still pending. Moffett NAS is cited though and have seen that Google is, or is willing to, pony up $30M for the Hanger 1 re-mediation...
    fwiw: saw one CA State figure that claimed the brownfield number exceeded 90k.
    The answer remains safely hidden from me and time spent looking was much greater than it should have been.
    site list
    pectin objects

  9. posted to the site:

    For superfund sites: I googled EPA Superfund Sites, which got me to the EPA webpage on superfund sites, then i navigated to EPA Region 9 (which includes CA).
    I clicked on site list,
    then selected Sites by State and County, drilled down to LA and SF counties.

    Los Angeles County 19 sites!OpenView&Start=1&Count=1000&Expand=2.14#2.14

    San Francisco County 2 sites

    Repeat this process to include the counties that are within the geographic definition of NoCal and SoCal in the question.

    For Brownfields, these are a little tougher to count as they are typically categorized by "status" e.g. cleanups, googled EPA Brownfields, went to the Region map
    Selected Region 9, then first selected cleanups and California to get a chart of brownfields and superfunds, but not grouped by county - so you have to do a bit of work counting and categorizing the cities and counties.

    Another approach to this part of question is to google brownfields in california site: (since CalEPA probably has resources as well). I selected the 4th result "Site Cleanup"
    and found a report, generated from Envirostor (produced by the CA Dept. of Toxic Substances Control) (this can be downloaded into excel easily, making it easy to sort the data by city and county; which you can also do on the site)
    This report includes the following category of sites:
    Brownfields and Environmental Restoration Program (Cleanup Program) Facility Sites with Land Use Restrictions
    The DTSC Cleanup Program list includes sites cleaned up under the Program's oversight and, generally, does not include current or former hazardous waste facilities that required a hazardous waste facility permit. The list represents land use restrictions that are active. Some sites have multiple land use restrictions. Not all land use restrictions are available at this time. DTSC will continue to update this list as documents become available.
    Get Report

  10. 1. I pulled the list of all SUperfund sites and brownfield sites in California from the EPA site -

    2. There are 192 sites listed, however one is an error. It lists a Tempe, AZ site is the California list so I removed it.

    3. I dumped the list in a spreadsheet, created a column for NC/SC, and stared tagging locations whether they are north or south of Visalia. I've lived in Cali my whole life so I was able to instantly tag 70% of them by looking at the name alone.

    4. For the rest I did Google Map searches and quickly determined North or South. The tricky one was Visalia (the midpoint set in the rules), and it turned out it was a matter of a few hundred feet south of the line. I used Google Maps Lat/Long function to determine.

    5. My total count after sorting the spreadsheet was:

    118 Northern Cal Sites
    73 Southern Cal Sites