Problems in Air Quality Monitoring System Affect Data Reliability

CED-82-101: Published: Sep 22, 1982. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1982.

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The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a nationwide air quality monitoring network, and each year EPA makes decisions, based on the data received from this network, which have significant impacts on the health and economic well-being of the nation's citizens. Accurate and reliable air quality data are essential in formulating many of these decisions, evaluating their impact, and determining future strategies. EPA has experienced serious difficulties in obtaining these data. GAO undertook this review to identify these problems and offer recommendations for corrective action.

GAO found that EPA progress in implementing the mandate of the act has been slow and costly and has not resulted in a reliable air monitoring network. Accurate air quality data are also essential for EPA enforcement of the Act and as a basis for establishing and revising the ambient air quality standards, which set the maximum allowable air pollutant levels. The first phase of this air monitoring effort was the establishment of the National Air Monitoring Stations network to provide air quality data to EPA. As of June 1982, 70 percent of the monitors required for the network were acceptable. However, even with full implementation of the network, EPA will not have fulfilled its air quality monitoring responsibilities; a state and local air monitoring stations network also is required to provide annual air quality data for the states' use in developing pollution control strategies. The air monitoring networks have not been completely implemented primarily because of a lack of approved quality assurance controls. To ensure data reliability, EPA has established requirements for collecting, processing, and reporting air quality data. However, EPA and the states did not follow these requirements and did not establish procedures needed to correct data handling problems. EPA is trying to determine the causes of data handling problems; however, its efforts are limited by a lack of procedures designed to identify those monitors which are not reporting air quality.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The agency disagrees with the recommendation and has stated that no change will be made.

    Matter: Congress should, in consultation with the EPA Administrator, establish a deadline by which the networks must be operational, after considering factors such as the technological state of the art and the availability of resources.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA believes that other action taken precludes the need to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The EPA Administrator, in consultation with the states, should include as a condition in the EPA grant agreement with the states that all funds designated to meet EPA air monitoring standards be spent to achieve these standards.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA believes that other action taken precludes the need to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The EPA Administrator should designate the Director, Monitoring and Data Analysis Division, as the air quality database manager.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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