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New NRDC Report Documents Monitoring Programs Slashed Under the Bush Administration

Jennifer Sass

Posted December 3, 2008 in Health and the Environment

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A report released today by the NRDC Health Program documents many examples of Bush Administration budget cuts to key data collection programs that monitor hazardous pollutants in our air, water, food, and even our bodies.

The loss of these monitoring programs will result in less data, and therefore greater scientific uncertainty. In the absence of public monitoring programs, "free" or "cheap" data are often volunteered by the regulated industries. The lack of resources and staff leaves EPA unable to provide adequate oversight of these data and scientific products, which are often shielded from public scrutiny by confidential business claims.  The result is that EPA is increasingly under pressure to make regulatory and policy decisions with inadequate data, or even no data at all.

The NRDC report documents cuts to critical monitoring programs, including the following examples:

Lead air monitors: The number of lead air monitors across the country has been cut in half, from 394 monitors in 1997 to only 188 monitors in 2007. EPA's own calculations show that a network of more than 650 lead monitors are necessary in areas downwind of polluters, and an additional 330 or more monitors are needed in urban areas. In October 2008, EPA finalized a new and more health-protective standard for airborne lead. However, as part of the new plan, the EPA raised the monitoring threshold from a half ton per year of lead emissions to 1 ton per year. That means that polluters who release up to 2,000 pounds of lead each year into local communities will not be monitored under the new lead rule.

National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA):  The NAWQA tests for pesticides, volatile organic compounds, metals, and other environmental contaminants. Budget constraints over the last eight years have forced NAWQA to cut three-quarters of its surface-water, fixed-station water quality monitoring sites, from 496 in 2000 to only 113 in 2008. Ground water quality monitoring sites will be cut in half because of a 15 percent ($10 million) cut in funding from FY08 to FY09.

 USGS National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP):  Serious budget cuts made to the USGS National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP) jeopardize critical flood moni­toring. This information is used to develop emergency response plans, predict floods, and measure climate change. The USGS streamgage program has been funded in a 50/50 co-operative with more than 800 state and local agencies (through the co-operative water program). The USGS operates and maintains approximately 7,500 streamgages that provide long-term, accurate information on stream flow.

National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Chemical Usage Survey:  This now-defunct survey had been published annually in a publicly accessible database called the Agricultural Chemical Use Database. It provided the public, industry, and regulators with U.S. trends of pesticide use in agriculture, searchable by year, by state, and by crop.  The NRDC report recommends that the program budget be restored to at least $9 million annually or a level that will keep the program up­dated and relevant to all users.

Toxics Release Inventory: The EPA issued a rule in December 2006 modifying the reporting requirements for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program. TRI requires certain industrial facilities to report if they release any of 666 toxic chemicals or chemical categories to air, land, and water and makes the data publicly accessible over the Internet. Compared to the previous requirements, this rule allows facilities to release four times more pollution before they must provide detailed information to the public.

 Environmental Justice monitoring:  Under Executive Order 12898, signed by President Clinton on February 11, 1994, the EPA is required to collect human health and environmental data to assess and compare environmental and human health risks to people of various races, national origins, and income level. Under President Bush, the FY09 proposed budget cuts funding to the Office of Environmental Justice's budget by 35 percent.

CDC Biomonitoring:  Biomonitoring, which measures toxic substances in blood and urine, is an essential tool in understanding what people are exposed to and how chemicals in the environment affect health. CDC studies have detected more than 100 chemicals in people in the United States. However, most state health departments lack the capacity to conduct this important type of monitoring. States need to do biomonitoring for emergency response as well as to monitor health-related exposures over time, identify communities at risk, and assess the effectiveness of state pollution control programs. Funding for the CDC's biomonitoring program peaked in 2002 and decreased by 18 percent in 2008.

See the full report and NRDC's Dr. Gina's blog for more examples, community impacts, health implications, and recommendations.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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