EPA Evaluates Health of the Environment

July 1, 2003
The water, air and land in the US is cleaner and safer these days. Especially when compared to the state of the environment 30 years ago, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

By James Laughlin

The water, air and land in the US is cleaner and safer these days. Especially when compared to the state of the environment 30 years ago, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Those findings were included in a recently released "Draft Report on the Environment" — an effort by the EPA to present the first-ever national picture of U.S. environmental quality and human health.

"This Draft Report on the Environment documents real gains in providing a cleaner, healthier and safer environment," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "More importantly, it begins an important national dialogue on how we can improve our ability to assess the nation's environmental quality and human health, and how we can use that knowledge to make improvements."

The report uses available scientific data, gathered from more than 30 other federal agencies, departments, states, tribes and non-governmental organizations, to answer questions that the EPA and its collaborators have identified as indicators of the nation's environmental quality and human health. It establishes scientific, consensus-based benchmarks to measure EPA's progress. This is the first time that EPA has developed a comprehensive report about the nation's environment, and it will be used as a baseline for future evaluations.

The report shows that:

— Our air is cleaner. Air pollution has declined 25% over the past 30 years, and it declined while the nation experienced large increases in population, gross domestic product and vehicle miles traveled.

— Our drinking water is purer. In 2002, 94 percent of Americans were served by drinking water systems that met health-based standards – an increase of 15 percent in the last decade.

— Our land is better-protected. Releases of toxic chemicals have declined by 48% since 1988, and the nation has significantly improved on the management of society's wastes.

The health of the American public is generally good and improving. People are living longer than ever before. Infant mortality has dropped to the lowest level ever recorded in the United States.

Despite the improvements, more than 133 million Americans live in areas that at times have unhealthful air. The report also noted the need for additional data to answer questions about the links between some environmental pollutants and health effects. From examples such as these, EPA is identifying areas to improve research and data collection and strengthen data partnerships with other federal agencies, states, tribes, and others.

The President has asked each federal agency to be more accountable to the American public. In presenting this report, EPA is attempting to provide a picture of what is known about the health of the US environment. And - equally important — what isn't known about the condition of our nation's environmental and human health.

It is clear that the US has taken great strides over the past 30 years to improve and protect the environment, but there is still more to be done.

"This draft report is a stepping stone toward helping EPA identify future data and research needs, and we are already putting that knowledge to work," said Whitman.

The report is part of the "Indicators Initiative" which EPA will use to identify priority areas of national concern and focus resources. Visit EPA's Web site: http://www.epa.gov/indicators to learn more about the Environmental Indicators Initiative and read the full Draft Report on the Environment.

James Laughlin, Editor

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