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Review: EPA's 2008 Review On The Environment

June - 2008
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On May 20th, 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency released its 2008 Report on the Environment (EPA 2008 ROE), a science-based report that answers questions about recent trends in human health and the environment. The report uses scientifically sound measures, called indicators, to address fundamental questions relevant to the EPA's mission to protect the environment and human health. These indicators were reviewed in a public forum prior to the creation of the report to determine if citizens (not just scientists) believed that the proposed indicators provided useful and technically sound data. One of the goals of the report is to eventually lead to the development of new indicators, monitoring strategies, and programs and policies in the areas that the EPA determines to be highly important based on measured environmental trends.

Since this kind of thing is right up my alley (and since my coworkers are always calling me a tree hugger) I decided to check out the hot-off-the-press ROE. I was impressed with the immensity of the report, as well as the clear and systematic layout of the chapters. The report is divided into five main sections (excluding the Introduction and Afterward), and are then subdivided into more detailed categories:

1. Air (subdivided into Outdoor, Greenhouse Gases, and Indoor)

2. Water (subdivided into Water & Watersheds, Ground Water, Wetlands, Coastal Water, Drinking Water, Recreational Water, & Consumable Fish and Shellfish)

3. Land (subdivided into Land Cover & Land Use)

4. Human Exposure & Health (subdivided into Exposure to Environmental Contaminants, Health Status, and Disease & Conditions)

5. Ecological Condition (subdivided into Extend & Distribution, Diversity & Biological Balance, Ecological Processes, Physical & Chemical Attributes, Ecological Exposure & Contaminants)

Within these chapters and subsections, the EPA presents 78 environmental indicators on a national scale. For example, the Air Chapter indicates several trends that show a considerable decrease in Ambient Concentrations of Carbon Monoxide in the United States. Armed with graphs, concise explanations of each indicator & its limitations, and easy to understand summaries of the presented data, the EPA delivers otherwise scientific and complex information in a way that is fairly easy for the average American to grasp.

In addition, the report includes region-specific data (apparently, I live in region 4). One of the more vague regional indicators shows an increase in Regional Haze between 1992 and 2004, comparing the views from National Parks on both the East and West coast. Interestingly, on the clearest of days (least haze) the view on the East Coast is only as good as the least clear of days (most haze) on the West Coast.

Another useful and interesting aspect of the report is the inclusion of detailed 'before and after' diagrams showing the difference in (to name just one) Sulfur Deposition throughout the US. The indicator presents two maps of the United States, each color-coded to identify sulfur deposits directly before and several years after sulfur and nitrogen oxide emission controls became mandated by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment. The difference is quite striking.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating (and frightening) indicators included in the 2008 ROE is one of the population indicators. With data going all the way back to 1790, the graph features a clear, upward trend slope, beginning with a meager 4 million people and skyrocketing up to the year 2000 - to a population of 300 million.

Overall, I found the ROE to be full of information that average individuals would find easy to grasp, as well as fundamentally important to know and understand in today's industrialized world. Keeping abreast with the quality of the air you breathe, the level of toxicity in the water you drink and the food you consume, and the correlation between the impact of human activity on overall human health is something every person should make an effort to do.

So, take the initiative! EPA's 2008 Report on the Environment http://www.epa.gov/roe