Mapping gaps in environmental data Essay

There is a general consensus among environmental experts that data from networks, monitoring U.S.

environmental quality are “not very good,” according to Richard M. Dowd, a Washington-based consultant and former Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator. Analyziing how to remedy deficiencies in data on the health of the evironment — and challenges to that health — was the primary goal of a new study on long-term research needs conducted by the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), in which dowd participated. At a news briefing last week to unveil the study’s findings, CEQ chairman A. Alan Hill pledged he would work with other federal agencies to see that the report’s long list of recommendations is implemented. These recommendations were distilled from discussions amoong four expert panels on human health impacts, geochemical and hydrological processes, ecosystems and environmental monitoring and assessment. Dowd identified several of the panels’ common concerns, such as monitoring.

The study found that for many environmental indicators there exist little or no monitoring data — “and often not even baselinges against which to measure current conditions.” Panelists also worry that most data come from short-term experiments that probably do not reflect the real and complex biochemical and physical ways an ecosystem would respond to stress. A related issue is how the majority of environmental research, which has focused on a single pollutant in just one medium — air, land or water — distorts understanding of possible relationships that occur as mixtures of contaminants move between media (SN: 2/23/85, p. 124).

Included in the study’s report are recommendations to: inventory all federal environmental monitoring programs; use federal hazardous-waste cleanup operations as field laboratories to study the chemistry of pollutants in soil; identify specially sensitive species — such as bees, worms or fungi — as early-warning senttinels of hazards; and conduct continental and global baseline studies for at least 10 years on the most important atmospheric pollutants — such as ozone, methane and oxides of nitrogen and sulfur.

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