Air Pollution:

National Air Monitoring Network Is Inadequate

RCED-90-15: Published: Nov 2, 1989. Publicly Released: Dec 20, 1989.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Richard L. Hembra
(202) 512-6111
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to collect and report complete, accurate, and reliable air monitoring data, focusing on: (1) EPA progress in establishing a national monitoring network; (2) the condition of air monitoring equipment; and (3) the effectiveness of EPA quality assurance measures.

GAO found that EPA: (1) did not meet its own requirements to have a national air monitoring network in place by July 1982; (2) attributed the delay in network completion to its uncertainty about requiring state and local agencies to expand their networks and to insufficient federal, state, and local funds; (3) needed 42 more monitors to complete its network, although population changes could cause a need for additional monitors; (4) lacked an overall plan to identify and meet equipment replacement needs, although 68 percent of the monitors were over 7 years old, their estimated useful life; (5) relied on state and local agencies to make it aware of equipment needs; (6) estimated that it would cost $7.1 million to replace aging monitoring equipment; (7) lacked an overall plan for helping states implement alternative funding programs for monitoring efforts; (8) inconsistently conducted biannual reviews and annual accuracy tests of monitors; (9) did not ensure that agencies provided valid, reliable monitoring data; and (10) allowed state and local agencies to select the monitors to be tested for accuracy.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 1990, EPA sent letters to all its regional offices listing 1990 NPAP participants and requesting that regional offices confirm that all agencies participated. EPA states that having AREAL select the monitors to be audited is cost-prohibitive.

    Recommendation: In view of the importance of EPA quality control measures and to ensure that EPA managers realize the full potential of these measures, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Director of the Atmospheric Research Exposure and Assessment Laboratory (AREAL) to systematically select monitors for inclusion in the National Performance Audit Program (NPAP) and require all state and local agencies to participate in the program.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA states that it will continue to strive for 100-percent compliance for regional office quality assurance audits. EPA states that this will be subject to fulfilling higher national priorities and the availability of sufficient funds.

    Recommendation: In view of the importance of EPA quality control measures and to ensure that EPA managers realize the full potential of these measures, the Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA regional offices to comply with EPA requirements to audit all state and local monitoring agencies at least once every 2 years and to complete the audits in accordance with EPA guidance on site inspections, data reviews, and identification of corrective actions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA believes that sufficient systems are in place to ensure completion of the NAMS network. EPA agrees to develop a strategy, by October 1992, for replacing the aging monitoring network and to encourage alternative and innovative funding sources.

    Recommendation: In order to increase EPA assurance that air monitoring networks produce monitoring data that are as accurate, complete, and representative as possible, the Administrator, EPA, should develop a strategy for completing the national monitoring network, meeting future monitoring needs, and replacing aging monitoring equipment. As part of its strategy, EPA should work with state and local agencies to identify opportunities through existing Clean Air Act provisions, such as collecting permit fees, or through alternative sources, such as Florida's license fee assessments, to generate additional funds to purchase needed monitors.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has agreed to consider what changes need to be made in NAMS/SLAMS criteria and what, if any, network alterations should be made. Any increases in monitors will need to be phased in because of funding restraints by EPA and the states.

    Recommendation: In order to increase EPA assurance that air monitoring networks produce monitoring data that are as accurate, complete, and representative as possible, the Administrator, EPA, should consider revising EPA criteria regarding the number and location of monitors in the national and state and local air monitoring networks. Specific attention should be given to either reducing the minimum population requirements for National Air Monitoring Stations (NAMS) monitors or establishing criteria requiring monitors in cities with populations too small to require NAMS monitors but which are experiencing, or have the potential for, significant pollution problems.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with the recommendation to review its guidance to state and local agencies on their use of the Precision and Accuracy Reporting Systems and to clarify the guidance where appropriate.

    Recommendation: In view of the importance of EPA quality control measures and to ensure that EPA managers realize the full potential of these measures, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Director of the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards to clarify EPA guidance to state and local agencies on how the agencies are to use Precision and Accuracy Reporting Systems results for validating air monitoring data.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 28, 2016

Sep 26, 2016

Aug 15, 2016

Jul 26, 2016

Jul 21, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jul 7, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here