The U.S. government founded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 to protect human health and the environment.
The EPA was a direct result of the growing concern for the environment. During the early phase of the modern environmental movement, which roughly spanned the 1950s through the 1970s, many environmental scientists wrote books and articles discussing the repercussions of the continued abuse of the environment by chemicals, as well as a lack of energy-efficient resources. For instance, the book Silent Spring by ecologist Rachel Carson inspired the growing modern environmental movement with its publication in 1962. Originally an article in the New York Times and then a bestselling book, Silent Spring suggested that species of birds and other animals would gradually become extinct as a result of pesticide use, which was polluting bodies of water, and in turn, poisoning many animal species.
Many grass roots campaigns, including the Sierra Club, also arose to promote environmental awareness. The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by John Muir. The club's first environmental campaign was in support of Yosemite National Park. The Sierra Club helped push through legislation on behalf of environmental preservation and human health. Throughout the modern environmental movement, the Sierra Club's membership grew from about 16,000 to 114,000.
At the same time, DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane) was unregulated and was the most commonly used pesticide because of its effectiveness against Mexican cotton boll weevil, gypsy moths, and mosquitoes. However, little was known of its effects on the environment and humans.
One of the Sierra Club's most significant accomplishments around the time of the EPA's founding involved its campaign and lawsuits against the use of DDT. The Sierra Club, along with several other groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, campaigned to help pass the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act of 1972 and to ban DDT use in the United States. The Sierra Club has also advocated on behalf of preservation of the Grand Canyon and the redwood forests in California.
Before the EPA was established, no single department dealt with environmental issues and had the authority to create and enforce laws and regulations. With the formation of the EPA, President Richard Nixon changed the structure of the executive branch, taking from some departments and adding to others, in order to form this new governmental agency. There were four major government agencies involved: the Federal Water Quality Administration, the National Air Pollution Control Administration, the Environmental Control Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration.
The EPA is made up of dozens of departments that oversee various programs, regulations, and laws. The Office of the Administrator, which is not part of the executive branch, is the overall supervisory department for the EPA and reports directly to the President. The Deputy Administrator of the EPA heads all operations of the organization and is appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.
There are also three Assistant Administrators, one for each of the three branches of the EPA: (1) Administration and Resources Management, (2) Air and Radiation, and (3) Enforcement and Compliance. The Office of Administration and Resources Management handles international affairs and includes the Chief Financial Officer. The Office of Air and Radiation encompasses the Office of the General Counsel and the Office of the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response. The Office of Enforcement and Compliance is headed by the Inspector General and handles inspections, permitting, and overall water regulations and laws.
The EPA headquarters is located in Washington, DC. Additionally, there are 10 regional locations in major U.S. cities: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The EPA helps establish new laws, regulations, and initiatives pertaining to environmental issues. Some of the main issues include radiation exposure, pesticides, air pollution, and water pollution, as well as solid waste disposal and the decreasing supply of the earth's natural resources.
The EPA comprises scientists, engineers, lawyers, policy analysts, managers, computer specialists, and other employees. These employees make up several divisions of research, education, enforcement, funding, analysis, etc.
In 1970, Congress created the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to achieve two major goals: to create national environmental policies and goals that kept in mind the protection, enhancement, and maintenance of the environment; and to create a process to ensure the implementation of these policies and goals. Included in this act was the establishment of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which oversees the NEPA and EPA.
NEPA required that federal agencies begin to submit environmental impact statements (EISs), which are documents that assess the impact that the agencies' actions would have on the environment.
Environmental assessments involve several steps, including research and analyses that pertain to environmental quality and ecosystems. The first step is a categorical exclusion determination, which involves deciding whether or not the actions fit categories that are predetermined by numerous federal agencies to have a significant impact on the environment. If no impact is determined, the agency fills out "finding of no significant impact (FONSI)" paperwork. If a significant impact is found, the EIS is prepared and submitted to the EPA, where it is reviewed and publicly commented on.
After the establishment of the EPA, the first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. More than 24 million Americans of all ages participated in the event.
General: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces more than 20 laws that pertain to environmental protection. Examples include: the Atomic Energy Act (AEA), the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund), the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Energy Policy Act, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments, the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA or Ocean Dumping Act), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA), the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The EPA enforces these laws by providing operating permits to companies that produce or reduce pollution. Permits can be viewed by the public. The permit states which pollutants are reduced, how much of each, and what actions are being taken to either eliminate or reduce emissions to EPA-set safety limits. The permits must also include plans to regularly measure and report emissions.
If these regulations are not followed, a fine or lawsuit may result. Enforcement of criminal laws is used against individuals, or entities that willfully, knowingly, and intentionally violate the laws of the EPA. The EPA works in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute these offenders.
The Clean Air Act: The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to set limits on the amount of emission pollutants that can be in the air at any given time. The major pollutants involved in this act include carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead.
The Clean Air Act established mandatory deadlines for reducing automobile emission levels: a 90% reduction in hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide levels by 1975 and a 90% reduction in nitrogen oxides by 1976. As a result of the Clean Air Act, emissions from these pollutants dropped by 54% by 2004.
Since the Clean Air Act was passed, state implementation plans (SIPs) are required to be completed by each state. SIPs outline how each state is to approach and implement air pollution controls under the Clean Air Act. They provide the regulations, policies, and programs that will be created or used to clean up polluted areas as well as prevent further pollution. The EPA provides expert studies, research aid and information, environmentally friendly engineering designs, and funding and support for these clean air programs.
The Clean Water Act: The Clean Water Act established laws against the release of pollutants into U.S. waters in order to protect aquatic ecosystems. This act also allowed the EPA to set standards for the quality of U.S. bodies of water. Originally passed in 1948, when it was called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, it was then revised and expanded in 1972 to become the Clean Water Act. This act put into action strict regulations, such as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which requires a permit be issued to any entity or persons looking to release pollutants.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund) of 1980: This act provides funds to local and state governments to aid in the cleanup of abandoned hazardous properties. The funds are also used to clean up spills and other accidental pollution and contamination releases into the environment. This act was important because it allowed the EPA to seek individuals or entities that had abandoned hazardous properties and recover the costs that were paid up front by the government and ensure compliance in cleaning up these properties.
The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986: This act was an addition to the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), which established laws regarding the labeling, manufacture, safety, and distribution of substances (such as asbestos) that can be harmful to humans and wildlife. This act provided the EPA with additional enforcement power in handling emergency asbestos removals that cause immediate harm.
The Food Quality Protection Act: This act, passed in 1997, is an amendment to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. These acts were revised to include stricter guidelines for pesticides in food products.
At the 10-year anniversary of the legislation, the act had successfully brought about the reassessment and registration of 99% of all pesticides by the EPA. This was significant, as it broadened the safety scope for food products, particularly in child and infant products. This act also helped to advance the scientific procedures used to assess the risk of pesticides.
The Energy Policy Act: This act, passed in 2005 in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), has as its mission to create standards for energy efficiency, renewable energy, oils and gas, coal energy, tribal nations' energy sources, nuclear matters and security, vehicle and motor fuels, hydrogen, electricity, energy tax incentives, hydropower and geothermal energy, and climate change technology. The goal in setting these standards is to reduce the waste of natural resources and the release of pollutants into ecosystems.
According to this act, the DOE and EPA are to help provide loan guarantees to entities that research and develop innovative energy technologies to reduce the release of green house emissions by-products.
The Energy Star© Program: This program, created by the DOE and the EPA, is geared to help consumers save money, while protecting the environment with energy-efficient products and practices. For instance, all Energy Star© products have logos indicating that they meet energy-efficient standards to reduce greenhouse emissions. This voluntary labeling includes home electronics, new homes, new commercial or industrial buildings, office equipment, lighting, computers and computer monitors, and major household appliances. Additionally, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, passed in 2008, grants tax credits for Energy Star© products.
The Endangered Species Act: This act is monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior. This act ensures the conservation of endangered and threatened animals, habitats, and plants. The FWS maintains a worldwide list of endangered species. This act requires that federal agencies consult with the FWS and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ensure that any actions taken will not endanger any species listed by the FWS. This act also makes it unlawful to import, export, or perform interstate exchange or foreign exchange with species listed by the FWS. The EPA's role in this act is to ensure that the use of pesticides does not jeopardize the safety of these threatened animals, plants, and habitats. Most issues concerning animals in general are handled by state and local wildlife departments.
Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA): An ERA evaluates the potential harmful effects that humans may have on the environment. There are three phases of an ERA: problem formulation, analysis, and risk characterization. During the problem formulation phase, EPA officials develop a plan to measure the potential harmful effects and decide which method(s) will be used to analyze the data. During the analysis and risk characterization phase, data are evaluated to estimate the ecological damage. Risk characterization involves estimating the risk of future damage.
EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory: This laboratory has several research divisions, including (1) human exposure and atmospheric sciences, (2) ecological exposure, (3) ecosystems research, (4) environmental sciences, (5) microbiological and chemical exposure assessment, and (6) atmospheric modeling. These divisions conduct ongoing research to determine how pollutants and other environmental hazards affect humans and the environment.
Some of the major pollutants that are studied include carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. These pollutants enter many environmental pathways where humans may become intoxicated through inhalation, ingestion, and absorption through the skin. Once in the body, the toxin spreads and is metabolized and excreted through various organs and tissues.
The research is peer reviewed regularly by the Board of Scientific Counselors, which is an independent body of expert scientists. Research results are submitted to the EPA program offices and Web site, research and development publications, the public, and the international community. The results are then used to support EPA programs, the creation of laws and regulations, as well as the educational and informational purposes of outside organizations .
IRIS (Integrated Risk Information System): The IRIS began as a pilot program through the EPA. It was created to be a database where all employees and affiliates of the EPA could access current research information conducted by the EPA. This system is a collection of documents that describe environmental substances and their potential effects on human health. The studies are collected for other governmental agencies as well as the public. A team reviews the literature and other background documents. The document then goes through an internal peer-review process, then an agency peer review and external peer review. Once approved by the National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) director, it can be uploaded to the IRIS database.
The IRIS was originally intended for internal EPA use. The system was then opened to national and international private and public companies. The IRIS became available to the public recently via the IRIS hotline, through which individuals and entities request access to the IRIS. This access is significant because it provides science-based, peer-reviewed information that allows entities and individuals to develop and enhance programming, education, and procedures dealing with the environment.
Overall the EPA serves its purpose in a variety of ways. The EPA sets regulation standards for state and local governments to follow. It provides funding for research and information assistance in order for state and local governments to meet compliance standards and create plans of action. It forms partnerships with a number of educational and research organizations. It provides grants to entities looking to enhance their environmentally friendly status. If state and local governments cannot meet EPA-set standards, the EPA can step in to take responsibility in order to ensure compliance.
General: The mission of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect and preserve the environment and to provide a safe living environment for its inhabitants. With many pollutants threatening the environment, each program and law passed involving the EPA provides safety measures necessary to reduce the risk of exposure to contaminants that may make organisms ill or even cause death.
Environment: The EPA's role in protecting the ecological system includes a program that was implemented through the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program. This program is intended to allow the EPA to regularly assess status and monitor trends in ecological habitats. Some methods of assessment include surveys, direct sample measurements, and models. The data that are collected are used to assess the overall status of the ecosystem and to determine whether pollution has had adverse effects. The EPA also creates or revises standards to counteract detrimental effects on the environment.
The cleanup enforcement division of the EPA oversees contaminations by spills or emission releases. The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act all provide the EPA with the authority to enforce environmental cleanups. In general, the individual or entity responsible for the contamination is responsible for cleaning it up. However, in the case of an oil spill on a coastal line, the EPA administers cleanup efforts through local and state governments. Afterward, they proceed with investigations, and if necessary, enforce repayment through various legal methods (such as lawsuits) against the violator.
The EPA is responsible for more than 13 labeling programs. Two of the more significant programs relating to environmental pollution involve the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). These acts detail the law regarding the labeling, sale, import, export, manufacture, and distribution of numerous toxins. Both laws provide the EPA with the authority to mandate record keeping, reporting, testing, and restriction of the numerous toxins covered under this law.
Human health: The EPA also advocates for human safety. For instance, several laws have been passed to ensure the safety of children, who are more at risk for the harmful effects of exposure to environmental contaminants. Certain child behaviors (e.g., putting fingers in the mouth, crawling on the floor, etc.) make them more vulnerable to pollutants and harmful organisms. Also, their bodies are still growing. Lastly, they eat, drink, and breathe in much more than needed in proportion to their body size. Common results of contamination include asthma, lead exposure, developmental disabilities, and childhood cancer.
Some laws that have been passed involving the EPA directly affect the safety of children, including the Lead Disclosure Rule and the Mercury Advisories for Pregnant Women. The Lead Disclosure Rule requires that when homes built before the ban of lead-based paint in 1978 are sold or rented, the presence of this lead and its health risks must be disclosed. Mercury advisories are determined based on the region of the country, types of fish, and their exposure risk to mercury contamination. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause developmental disorders in infants whose mothers were exposed to hazardous levels of mercury during their pregnancy.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act was created to ensure the safety of employees in the workplace, where they may often be exposed to dangerous chemicals or other materials. OSHA is not under the EPA umbrella, but rather the U.S. Department of Labor. The EPA and OSHA maintain a chemical database, which is based on information about various chemicals from numerous federal agencies, as well as private organizations. Each entry contains information regarding exposure guidelines, emergency response information, and physical properties of the chemicals.
FUTURE RESEARCH OR APPLICATIONS
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Research and Development (ORD) has eight national research programs that aim to improve current and future ecological knowledge as well as reduce future health risks for organisms. .
The Clean Air Research Program has been at the forefront of air pollution research, focusing on airborne particle pollutants and ozone pollutants. This was one of the earliest research programs to provide significant analyses of the effects of airborne pollutants on respiratory health. For instance, researchers discovered that exposure to air pollutants may be linked to asthma. The mission of this program is to "provide safe and healthy air for every American community by advancing air pollution science and providing the knowledge and tools that can be used by state and local governments for clean air under the Clean Air Act."
The Human Health Research Program consistently evaluates the methods, data, and tools used to perform risk assessments of environmental pollutants. Improving risk assessment strategies helps improve the safety of the public.
The Land Research Program was created to provide scientific solutions to help preserve the land and its resources. This program also helps restore damaged land and resources that may affect public health. Within this program are nine divisions of research: (1) contaminated sediments research, (2) groundwater research, (3) site characterization research (including mining, oil spills, and arsenic contamination), (4) technical support centers, (5) nanotechnology fate and transport research, (6) brownfields and land revitalization research, (7) landfill research, (8) leach testing for material reuse, and (9) asbestos research.
The Pesticides and Toxic Substances Research Program was created to raise public awareness about the potential harmful effects of pesticides, toxic chemicals, and products of biotechnology. The program is separated into two divisions. The first is Safe Pesticides/Safe Products Research, which focuses on reducing the risk to humans and wildlife from pesticides and toxic substances through labeling regulations and safe distribution practices for industries involving products of this nature. The second division is Endocrine Disruptors Research, which focuses on producing information to help reduce the risks to humans and wildlife from endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are various chemicals that interfere with the hormonal system and cause adverse effects, such as fertility problems, brain and behavior problems, some cancers, and impaired immune function. A number of pesticides and plastics are endocrine disruptors.
The Water Quality Research Program conducts research on water quality in order to help the EPA restore and protect water systems. This information also aids in establishing a standard of overall water quality.
The Drinking Water Research Program provides science-based information about health risks that compromise safe and quality drinking water as a result of waterborne pollutants. The research focuses on safe distribution and processing of drinking water, and the overall protection of all drinking water systems, sources, and resources.
The Ecosystem Services Research Program was created to research environmental processes that occur naturally and contribute to the well-being of our ecosystems. Processes that are included in ecosystem services are ones in which nature cleans the air, cleans the water, fertilizes soil for crop production, pollinates plants, and naturally controls floods. The program collects data and creates methods, models, and tools to assist local and national governments in making informed decisions.
The Global Change Research Program examines global changes, such as climate change, and how they affect air and water quality, ecosystems, human health, and socioeconomic systems in the United States. The program provides up-to-date and relevant information that will assist policy makers and resource managers in making informed environmental decisions.
This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
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