Feature extraction and machine learning techniques for identifying historic urban environmental hazards: New methods to locate lost fossil fuel infrastructure in US cities

Tollefson, J., Frickel, S., and Restrepo, M. I.

PLOS One 16(8) | PDF

Abstract US cities contain unknown numbers of undocumented “manufactured gas” sites, legacies of an industry that dominated energy production during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. While many of these unidentified sites likely contain significant levels of highly toxic and biologically persistent contamination, locating them remains a significant challenge. We propose a new method to identify manufactured gas production, storage, and distribution infrastructure in bulk by applying feature extraction and machine learning techniques to digitized historic Sanborn fire insurance maps. Our approach, which relies on a two-part neural network to classify candidate map regions, increases the rate of site identification 20-fold compared to unaided visual coding.