Scientists Say US Pollution Monitoring Inadequate

Panel of 27 scientists concludee that many anti-pollution laws are outdated and inadequate

Published: 15-Mar-2004

lass=storydetail1>While the effect of air pollution on human health gets most of the headlines, the impact of pollutants such as acid rain, ozone and other compounds on crops, forests and other vegetation is also a serious concern and monitoring is grossly inadequate, according to Oregon State University researchers and others.

Studies have shown depressed crop yields in parts of the United States from ozone levels that are fairly common during the summer. Forest soils may be accumulating acids from decades of sulfur and nitrogen deposition. And little is being done to even monitor these and many other problems, let alone address them, said Beverly Law, an OSU associate professor of forest science.

Law was the primary ecologist on a panel of 27 experts on the National Research Council of the National Academies, which recently issued a report on air quality and laws in the United States.

The panel concluded that many anti-pollution laws are outdated and inadequate, and that progress made to control emissions, despite the expenditure of $500 billion or more in one 20-year period between 1970-90, is being offset by increasing economic and population growth.

The nation needs a more comprehensive monitoring plan, Law said, that considers a wide range of air pollutants which may work in concert to cause environmental problems. Most past studies have looked at pollutants in isolation and not examined their combined effects.

Studies done with agricultural crops have demonstrated that plants protected from excess levels of ozone did far better than those exposed to higher levels, Law said.

The Clean Air Act and other environmental measures designed to monitor and prevent air pollution often make little or no mention of the effect at the overall ecosystem level. And even when steps are taken to address the issue, Law said, too often it's considered acceptable just to "make progress," rather than deal with the broad scope of the problem.

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