Gov’t Report Details How EPA Relied On ‘Inaccurate’ Air Pollution Data

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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State environmental regulators couldn’t prove their air pollution monitors were properly sited and operating correctly, and the Environmental Protection Agency has given states little to no guidance on how to fix the problem, according to a government watchdog report.

The EPA inspector general examined the quality of the agency’s air pollution monitoring network in Region 6 — covering 5 states in the southern, central U.S. — and found states’ air monitoring plans from 2010 and 2013 “did not provide evidence that each monitoring site met regulatory siting criteria.”

“[N]one of the 12 plans included sufficient evidence to provide reasonable assurance that each monitor met EPA siting requirements,” the IG reported Friday. “[T]he plans in both 2010 and 2013 lacked specific evidence showing that each site met all EPA requirements, particularly siting requirements.”

The IG found that “some annual plans contained factual errors such as mischaracterized sites, or were missing information related to PM2.5 sites that were not identified by Region 6’s review.”

“Some annual plans contained errors or mischaracterizations in how they described the PM2.5 monitoring networks,” according to the IG.

EPA relies on air pollution monitors strategically placed across the country to see if regions come out of compliance with federal clean air regulations. The IG’s report focused on fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, monitoring stations in one of the most heavily populated regions of the country.

“Inaccurate or incomplete descriptions of the PM2.5 monitoring networks in annual plans create risk that the plans are unreliable and provide less assurance that the network is meeting EPA requirements, and thus providing reliable air quality data.,” the IG reported. “The errors we identified also indicated that the region can improve controls over its review process to provide better assurance that the plans are complete and accurate.”

“We attribute this condition to a lack of clear explanation in the regulation and EPA guidance as to how the plans should present sufficient evidence to demonstrate that siting requirements were met,” the IG added.

Here are just some of the problems with states had with siting PM2.5 monitors:

  • Oklahoma had some problems verifying it met EPA air monitoring station criteria. Photographs “did not demonstrate that the required siting criteria were met” because they “did not demonstrate whether sampling device probe heights were sufficient.” The photos also “did not show whether the sampling devices were an appropriate distance from objects and roadways that could influence the validity of the PM2.5 data.”
  • A PM2.5 station in New Mexico was sited in area that had drastically changed (from vegetation to dirt) over three years, which caused the area to become increasingly out of compliance with EPA clean air rules — but it was all from extra dust screwing with the pollution monitor.
  • Texas didn’t have a plan to build any PM2.5 stations near roads despite being required to under EPA regulations.

“Neither EPA regulation nor guidance defined what constitutes sufficient evidence in annual plans to demonstrate compliance with monitor siting requirements,” the IG reported. “The EPA needs to clarify this concept so that states can better address this annual plan requirement.”

“Proper siting and operation of monitors is needed so that the EPA can make reliable determinations about an area’s compliance with air quality standards, and so that the public can be informed of air quality risks,” according to the IG.

The EPA referred The Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment to the recommendations section of the inspector’s report where it says:

“Based on the EPA’s full response, it agreed with all six recommendations in our report and provided proposed corrective actions for each. All report recommendations are resolved.”

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