- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

A draft version of the Environmental Protect Agency’s “Report on the Environment” shows cleaner air, purer drinking water, better-protected land and healthier Americans.

“We have made much progress over the past 30 years, but there is still more to be done,” said EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. “This draft report is a stepping stone toward helping EPA identify future data and research needs, and we are already putting this knowledge to work.”

However, EPA officials caution that reports on ecological conditions are incomplete because all data are not available. While the health of Americans has improved, it is not known if this is due to environmental factors.

A general characterization of land use across the country is not available. And while an overview of water quality is available at the state and local level, a national picture can not be painted at this time.

Emissions of six principal air pollutants have decreased 25 percent in the past 30 years, said Paul Gilman, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

But he warned that “some toxins are still at levels of concern.”

These toxins of concern include nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which contribute to acid rain, respiratory symptoms and aggravation of asthma.

According to the report, more than 133 million people lived in areas where monitored air quality in 2001 was unhealthy at times because of high levels of at least one air pollutant, such as ozone.

Turning to drinking water, some improvements in supplies were made over the past 10 years.

“An increasing number of people are served by community water systems that meet all health-based drinking-water standards,” said Mr. Gilman. The fraction of water systems meeting all standards increased from 79 percent in 1993 to 94 percent in 2002.

The accuracy of the information is shaky, however. “We fully recognize some reporting has accuracy problems,” he said. “We can’t be absolutely sure.”

The nation’s estuaries are in fair-to-poor condition, according to the report. Waters in the Northeast, Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes regions are in poor condition while waters in the West and Southeast are in fair condition, based on indicators such as health of coastal wetlands and condition of lakeshore sediments.

“Industrial releases of toxic chemicals have declined in recent years and pesticide use has declined from 1980 [to] 1999,” Mr. Gilman said. “However, over the last 40 years, the total amount of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. has increased. Today, virtually all hazardous waste is recycled or treated or disposed of in approved landfills.”

Linking human-health improvements to the environment is not possible because too many other factors such as lifestyle and health care contribute, officials said.

However, life expectancy is up and infant mortality is at an all-time low in the United States, though the nation is still behind other developed nations in terms of infant mortality.

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