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2 Challenges of the 21st Century Efforts of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address en- vironmental degradation over the last 40 years have had some marked successes, including reductions in particulate and sulfur air pollution, reductions in indus- trial discharges in waterways, and removal of lead from gasoline. Yet enormous challenges remain. Although many of the more visible environmental problems have been at least partly addressed, persistent problems and new problems affect the environment's ability to provide the ecosystem services on which humans and other living organisms depend. Solving current environmental challenges--for example, nutrient overload and eutrophication, climate change, increased body burdens of diverse chemi- cals, and water-quality declines--requires understanding the nature of the prob- lems and their relationships to other phenomena. In particular, solving environ- mental challenges requires consideration of root causes and possible unintended consequences of interventions in domains not normally considered. Developing a strong understanding of how various key drivers can affect multiple phenom- ena relies on the expansive application of systems thinking. Identifying viable and sustainable solutions that will optimize economic, social, and environmental benefits should have high priority. Ensuring that EPA has the scientific capacity to promote those solutions requires a science strategy that builds on accom- plishments but includes innovative and diverse tools. Current and future environmental challenges also include disasters, which require EPA to have an ability to respond quickly to address environmental con- sequences. Those disasters can arise from natural events such as storms, earth- quakes, and volcanic eruptions; from accidents at major industrial facilities, such as pipelines, large bulk-storage facilities, mines and wells, and power and chemical plants; or as the direct or indirect consequence of terrorism events. EPA is and will continue to be responsible for monitoring and addressing the environmental changes resulting from disasters (whether natural or human- caused). 27
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28 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead Chapter 2 discusses major factors that lead to environmental change and some of the persistent challenges that EPA will likely continue to face in the coming decades. The committee cannot predict with certainty what new envi- ronmental problems EPA will face in the next 10 years or more, but it can iden- tify some of the common drivers and common characteristics of problems. The specific topics discussed in this chapter were identified based on committee ex- pertise and a review of the scientific literature. This chapter is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all factors leading to environmental changes or of all persistent and future environmental challenges. Instead, the chapter is meant to provide some illustrative examples of the types of problems facing EPA today and some of the factors that create and influence those problems. MAJOR FACTORS LEADING TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE Major socioeconomic factors are directly and indirectly driving environ- mental changes and are increasing the imperative for EPA to maintain and strengthen its environmental research efforts. Those socioeconomic factors are often reflected in population growth and migration, demographic shifts, land-use change and habitat loss, increasing energy demand and shifting energy supplies, new consumer technologies and consumption patterns, increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, and movement of organisms beyond their traditional ranges, which in turn have implications for the scientific knowledge that is required to inform policy decisions at EPA effectively. EPA will be challenged in coming years to adapt to rapid changes in scientific knowledge, society, and the envi- ronment. An increased awareness of the effects of human activity on human health and the environment has raised people's concern regarding the issues that the agency is charged with addressing. Population Growth It took until 1800 AD for mankind to reach a population of 1 billion peo- ple, but only required 123 more years to reach 2 billion, 33 more years to reach 3 billion, and about 1314 more years for each additional billion people thereaf- ter (UN 1999). In October 2011, the worldwide population hit 7 billion (UN 2011). With the dramatic increase in population, human activities have altered and will continue to alter an ever-increasing portion of Earth's surface (Wulder et al. 2012). Such activities have diminished natural ecosystems and the benefits that they provide, including water purification, flood control, climate modera- tion, and new crop plants. In the United States, the population continues to increase at approximately 1% per year (US Census Bureau 2012). This population growth contributes to such environmental effects as increased emissions of greenhouse gases due to energy use, transportation demand, and residential and commercial activities (EPA 2011a); increased consumption of resources (Worldwatch Institute 2011);
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Challenges of the 21st Century 29 increasing numbers of manufactured chemicals and products introduced into the environment (EPA 2011a); and increased food and water demand and concomi- tant changes in land use (NRC 2011). Those demographic, consumption, and production changes contribute to the challenge of addressing environmental problems and health outcomes as increasing amounts of land and resources are demanded to meet human wants and needs. Changes in Land Use Land use is a major factor driving environmental quality. Land use strongly influences water quality through runoff, water quantity through influ- ence on the hydrologic cycle, air quality through emissions and deposition and carbon storage in terrestrial landscapes, and biologic diversity through habitat loss, disturbance, and resource availability. In the United States, changes in land use result largely from expansion of urban and agricultural areas, energy devel- opment, and changes in forestry practices. Population growth and demographic transitions have increased the re- quirement of land area for residential, commercial, and transportation activities (Squires 2002). In the conterminous United States, it has been estimated that up to 45.5 million acres (2.4%) of land is characterized by impervious surfaces (in- cluding roads, building, sidewalks, and parking lots) (Nowak and Greenfield 2012). Impervious surfaces change the hydrology and ecology of rivers (higher peak flows and scouring of habitat) and reduce the availability of groundwater for agriculture and other human use. In addition, the interconnected effects of urban sprawl are numerous and complex--greater automobile use in less- densely populated communities can lead to increased air pollution and more sedentary lifestyles, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. Less dense housing also increases energy use per capita and contributes to increased air pollution and climate change and potentially to such adverse health effects as increased asthmatic attacks (Frumkin 2002; Younger et al. 2008; Brownstone and Golob 2009). Despite increased demand for food and fuel, the land area dedicated to ag- riculture has not increased substantially over the last few decades. In the United States, acreage devoted to corn has increased over the last 10 years, but total agricultural acreage has been largely unchanged. Agricultural productivity has increased as a result of major investments in research by both the public and private sectors, but there is still uncertainty as to whether the increase can be maintained and, if so, whether it would have associated environmental costs. For example, without substantially increased nutrient-use efficiency, increased amounts of fertilizers will be applied per acre of agricultural land, and therefore increased amounts of those nutrients will be lost to the environment. If increased productivity is not maintained, more acres will need to be devoted to agriculture, probably at the expense of marginally productive lands and natural ecosystems.
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30 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead Increased demand for bioenergy, wind, and solar-power plants may also place additional pressure on land resources. Beyond ethanol-based biofuels, much of the bioenergy used in power generation is likely to come from forest biomass through increased use of harvesting residues and (potentially) increased harvesting. Forest ownership patterns have shifted over the last 20 years as a result of the large-scale disaggregation of the forest-products industry. That shift has increased land-use decisions that are based on maximizing shorter-term eco- nomic returns rather than long-term production of forest products (USDA 2006). When combined with more intensive use of forests to meet the demand for a shifting basket of products (largely bioenergy), shifts in forest ownership may have increasing effects on the environment. Thus, to pursue its environmental- protection mission effectively in coming years, EPA will need to expand its ef- forts to monitor and understand land-use changes. Energy Choices Energy choices in the United States--including bioenergy, conventional and unconventional oil and gas production, coal, and nuclear power--all have important implications for the environment through the effects of resource ex- traction or production, fuel combustion, and waste discharge or disposal. The April 2010 blowout of British Petroleum's Macondo deepwater oil well illus- trated how devastating the unintended consequences of energy development can be; the accident killed 11 workers and led to the largest oil spill in US history and the closure of some fisheries in more than 80,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA 2012a). The rapid but less dramatic expansion of natural-gas production across the United States has raised concerns about effects on local water and air quality. There are also concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions associated with methane leakage during production and transport, although natu- ral gas is recognized as a fuel that inherently emits less greenhouse gas (about half) than coal when combusted (Jaramillo et al. 2007). The comparative advan- tages are lost at higher leak rates (that is, the rate at which methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is lost to the atmosphere during the production, trans- portation, and use of natural gas) (Alvarez et al. 2012). Another example is the production of ethanol for use as a biofuel, which has increased rapidly in the last decade because of the desire for energy security and renewable transportation fuels. In 2010, about 40% of US corn production was used as feedstock for biofuel production (NRC 2011). Such agricultural and energy choice practices can have negative environmental effects; increased pro- duction of corn as an ethanol feedstock has resulted in increased nutrient runoff and corresponding eutrophication of coastal waters, including the Gulf of Mex- ico (NRC 2008, 2011). Given current water-use efficiencies, large quantities of water are also required for irrigation and the intensification of agricultural prac- tices can increase erosion (NRC 2008, 2011). Further research is required to develop new perennial feedstocks that would require less tillage and have high
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Challenges of the 21st Century 31 nutrient-use efficiencies so that soils and nutrients would be held in place. Ulti- mately, competition between the demand for food and the demand for land needed for other purposes will limit the amount of biofuels that can be produced. The extent to which new technology can alleviate those constraints is unclear because of limitations in photosynthetic efficiency. An improved understanding at EPA of the potential effects of new energy options and emerging technologies would help ensure that they are pursued in ways that protect the environment and human health. Broadly, the domain of energy is a classic example where systems thinking would be needed, as technologic or regulatory changes influ- encing one fuel type can have ripple effects across the life cycle of multiple fu- els. For example, emissions requirements on power plants could reduce air pol- lutant emissions from coal-fired power plants and decrease impacts related to coal mining and transport, but could lead to increased use of natural gas and hydrofracturing as an extraction technology. Systems-level analyses that take account of these ripple effects and determine the net implications for ecologic and human populations are crucial. Technologic Change and Changing Consumption Technologic innovation creates a large challenge to acquiring the envi- ronmental data required to inform policy in a timely way. In the last 2 decades, a revolution in electronics has led to such devices as cellular telephones, iPods, and tablet computers. In 1980, the computer-chip industry used only 11 ele- ments from the rare earth and platinum series metals; today it requires 60 ele- ments, or almost two-thirds of the natural periodic table (Schmitz and Graedel 2010; Erdmann and Graedel 2011). Such technologic change not only requires increasing production but challenges the ability of industry to recycle and re- cover the (sometimes toxic) materials used in electronic devices. EPA is chal- lenged to assimilate or perform research fast enough to understand the health and environmental risks associated with the production and disposal of those devices, let alone how to mitigate any risks. A legacy of contaminated soils in both terrestrial and aquatic environments is a reminder that managing these technologic challenges is not new. Increased vigilance is necessary to ensure that future generations are not left with a legacy of contamination as has hap- pened in the past. Other innovative technologies--such as new chemicals, nanomaterials, and synthetic biology--are important for economic growth. However, they also require focused research to understand adverse human health and environmental effects and to understand how to avoid harmful effects through safe product design and to ensure that wastes are reused or recycled. In the face of rapid technologic innovation, a key challenge for EPA is acquiring the scientific data required to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment without imposing a drag on economic development (see Chapter 4). Understand- ing how new technologies will influence the application and use of existing
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32 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead technologies will be important in ensuring the net benefit of EPA's efforts. So- cial-science and behavioral-science research will be critical in helping to design and evaluate strategies for meeting that challenge. Transport of Organisms The geologically recent evolution of life occurred on isolated continents, each of which evolved a distinctive biota. However, the ever-expanding move- ment of people and goods has tended to homogenize Earth's biota and resulted in two increasingly serious environmental problems: the spread of animal- vectored diseases and the invasion of exotic species. Species are transported around the world inadvertently on ships, airplanes, and automobiles. Others are deliberately imported for agriculture, horticulture, biologic control, and recrea- tion (such as pets or game animals). Most do not become established in the loca- tions to which they are introduced, and few of the ones that do naturalize disrupt the local ecologic communities seriously. However, some do become highly invasive, dominating ecologic communities, spreading diseases, and diminishing the ability of other species to survive. One example is the impact zebra mussels have had in the Great Lakes region (Pejchar and Mooney 2009). Zebra mussles compete with some fish for zooplankton prey, clog intake pipes and impair flow at water treatment plants, contribute to the bioaccumulation of mercury and lead, and change nutrient balances in the water resulting in increased phytoplankton and cyanobacterial blooms. Few studies have been done to try to estimate the total costs of nonnative invading species at a national level; however, one study estimates that about $120 billion is spent in the United States per year due to environmental damages and losses caused by nonnative invading species (Pi- mentel et al. 2005; Pejchar and Mooney 2009). Increasingly, people are intro- duced to new exposure pathways and vectors through other animals that are po- tential carriers of diseases to which humans and other animals lack immunity. ENVIRONMENTAL AND HUMAN HEALTH CHALLENGES The patterns of change briefly described above have resulted in a suite of current and emerging environmental and human health challenges for EPA, such as Human and environmental exposure to increasing numbers, concentra- tions, and types of chemicals. Factors contributing to human and environmental exposures include energy choices, technologic change, and changing energy consumption. Threat of deteriorating air quality through changes in weather (Jacob and Winner 2009) and through the formation of more particles in the atmosphere from allergens, mold spores, pollen, and reactions of primary air pollutants
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Challenges of the 21st Century 33 (Confalonieri et al. 2007). Factors contributing to deteriorating air quality in- clude population growth, energy choices, changing consumption, and climate change. Water quality and coastal-system degradation, including challenges to rebuild old infrastructure and address such issues as urban stormwater and by- pass of raw sewage (NOAA 2012b). Factors contributing to water quality and coastal-system degradation include land use, urban sprawl, climate change, and energy systems. Nonpoint-source pollution and nutrient effects associated with agricul- tural runoff of nutrients and soils. Factors contributing to nonpoint-source pol- lution and nutrient effects include climate change, land use, and technologic change (NRC 2011). Expanding quantities of waste with a wider array of component materi- als (Schmitz and Graedel 2010). Factors contributing to expanding quantities of waste include population growth, energy usage, technologic change, and chang- ing consumption. Expanding ecologic disruptions (USDA 2012). Factors contributing to ecologic disruptions include population growth, land use, climate change, and transport of organisms. The first three of the challenges listed above are discussed in greater detail below, with some examples that illustrate the need for a better approach for ac- cessing, obtaining, developing, and using science and engineering in the pursuit of environmental solutions. In addition, an overarching challenge relates to the ever expanding spatial and temporal scales at which many of these challenges operate. Although the challenges in this chapter are only illustrative of today's challenges and although it is difficult to predict what emerging challenges will dominate in the future and what global implications will arise from local-scale environmental drivers, it is quite likely that future emerging challenges will share key features of the examples below. Some of those key features include complex feedback loops, the need to understand the effects of low-level expo- sures to numerous stressors rather than high-level exposures to individual stress- ors, and the need for systems thinking to devise optimal solutions. Chemical Exposures, Human Health, and the Environment Human health is inextricably linked with ecosystems and the quality of the environment. Since the beginnings of the discipline of public health, it has been recognized that most diseases are influenced by three factors: the agent (chemical, biologic, or physical), the host (genetic or behavioral), and the environment (physical or social). Historically, the greatest advances in controlling infectious diseases have been based on environmental improvements, such as improvements in water quality, sewage treatment, and food protection. Controlling chemical ex-
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34 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead posures and reducing or preventing associated health effects can be more challeng- ing. Although new chemicals continue to be created and enter the environment, many of the problems they cause are not new. Cancer was among the dominant health concerns through the early decades of EPA. Carcinogenic pollutants-- including asbestos, arsenic, benzene, hexavalent chromium, dioxin, and vinyl chloride--were a major focus of interest in human health effects because of both public concerns and expanded toxicologic and epidemiologic findings. Identify- ing and controlling carcinogens was a dominant driver of EPA science, from analytic chemistry through toxicity testing and risk assessment. While cancer will continue to be an EPA and societal priority, other health outcomes are likely to receive increasing attention given growing epidemiologic and toxicologic evidence. Many of these health effects are chronic and subtle, and there is still much to be learned. For example, hormonally active chemicals have long been researched, but the importance of their potential health effects continues to be elucidated. A new class of hormonally active substances receiving increased attention are obesogens, which target lipid metabolism and may interfere with natural hormone signaling (Kirchner et al. 2010). Another challenge related to exposure to chemicals or other stressors is characterizing susceptibility to adverse health effects. Susceptibility can vary greatly in a population as a function of factors that are not often systematically evaluated. Young children may be at greater risk for neurologic and endocrine effects, and the elderly may be more susceptible to immune effects, cardiovascu- lar effects, or infection. Race or socioeconomic status may increase the risk of cumulative environmental effects that result from living disproportionally closer to pollution sources (Bullard 2000). Poverty, stress, and lack of access to medi- cal care decrease human resilience and the ability to adapt; disadvantaged com- munities are at increased risk when faced with increased exposure. Genetic fac- tors also influence susceptibility and underscore the importance of gene environment interaction in determining health outcomes. Transgenerational effects and sensitive populations are also of great con- cern for public health. Exposure to chemicals and other stressors during gesta- tion can affect the mother, the fetus, and even the germ cells of the fetus and lead to effects on the third generation (Holloway et al. 2007). Some research indicates that chemical exposure in the womb can trigger epigenetic changes much later in life. Adipose-tissue development, food intake, and lipid metabo- lism may be altered as a result of exposure to organotins, perfluorooctanoic acid, diisobutyl phthalate, bisphenol A, and other xenobiotic chemicals found in the environment (Grun and Blumberg 2006). The epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome in the United States and elsewhere indicates that research is needed to determine whether there is a causal link to the chemicals described above at concentrations measured in the environment. If environmental expo- sures caused even a tiny fraction of the almost 130% increase in obesity in the United States over the last 40 years (Wang and Beydoun 2007), they constitute an important emerging challenge for EPA science and regulation.
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Challenges of the 21st Century 35 An area of increasing recognition is that of cumulative effects from the built and social environment on health and well-being. Multiple exposures and social factors can interact to increase risks and affect community health status. The role of the built environment in community health is analogous to the role of habitat change in ecologic quality. Effective environmental protection takes into consideration all environments that are valuable to humans and natural sys- tems, and EPA can continue to have significant impacts in this area of research. Today and in the future, EPA will be challenged to maintain and consider an expanding list of chemicals and potential adverse environmental health ef- fects. Because people are being exposed to many different types of stressors that may interact antagonistically or synergistically and because chemicals can affect different populations in different ways, EPA will also be challenged to refine methods to evaluate cumulative effects (EPA 2011b). New approaches to under- standing and managing risks and to measuring health outcomes would support more informed environmental-policy decisions. Biomonitoring and Emerging Concerns about Exposure and Health Biomonitoring for human exposure to chemicals in the environment has provided a new lens for understanding population exposures to toxicants. The Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals measured 212 chemicals in the US population, including 75 for the first time (CDC 2009). The results indicated some declining loads of historical pollutants, such as lead and polychlorinated biphenyls, but also indicated widespread popu- lation exposure to previously unmeasured and potentially toxic chemicals. For example, bisphenol A, which potentially has reproductive and endocrine effects, was found in the urine of over 90% of those sampled. Bioaccumulated polybro- minated diphenyl ethers were found in the serum of almost the entire population, as were several polyfluorinated compounds used to impart nonstick characteris- tics to surfaces. The report also provided improved data on pervasive exposures to historically recognized toxicants, such as arsenic and mercury. The "exposome" is a measure of all exposures that a person accrues in a lifetime (see Chapter 3). It is exceedingly difficult to measure all exposures that a person accrues in a lifetime because of the enormous variability in exposure over space and time and to an ever-changing set of chemicals that are used by society. Measuring such exposures in an entire population is even more difficult. Yet the exposome is a useful concept that will be increasingly important in com- ing years and allow the exploration of the progression of disease from an ab- sorbed dose to a targeted health outcome, including the influence of genetic in- formation on susceptibility and biomarkers. Novel understanding of population exposure brings new challenges for envi- ronmental health science. The report Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals (NRC 2006) indicates the analytic methods for detecting exposures have outpaced the science of interpreting the potential implications for human health. As the list of biomarkers grows, EPA will face constant challenges to interpret health and
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36 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead ecologic implications, identify sources of exposure, and trace the pathways of hu- man exposure. In addition to the traditional single-substance approach, the recog- nition that the population is chronically exposed to low concentrations of large numbers of pollutants will necessitate new methods for understanding cumulative effects of multiple contaminants on health. Air Pollution and Climate Change EPA's first goal in its 20112015 strategic plan is "taking action on cli- mate change and improving air quality" (EPA 2010a). This goal encompasses mandates under the Clean Air Act and other statutes, obligations under interna- tional treaties and agreements, and executive branch commitments. The follow- ing sections provide examples of challenges associated with understanding and addressing air pollution and climate change. Improving Air Quality The Clean Air Act is designed primarily to address effects on human health and welfare (including visibility and ecologic effects) that are due to pol- lutants released into or produced in the ambient atmosphere. That is accom- plished through regulations that limit emissions from a broad array of sources-- feedlots, ship engines, petroleum refineries, power plants, vehicles, and more. The act requires EPA to protect human health and welfare through provisions that specifically address a core set of six criteria air pollutants, nearly 200 listed hazardous air pollutants, acid deposition, and protection of the stratospheric ozone layer (42 USC ). It also directs the EPA administrator to regulate other air pollutants on finding they may reasonably be expected to endanger public health and welfare. The Clean Air Act and other statutory mandates give rise to the need for improved scientific and technical information on health ef- fects, human exposures, ecologic exposures and effects, ambient and emission monitoring techniques, atmospheric chemistry and physics, and pollution- prevention and emission-control methods for hundreds of pollutants. Beyond the outdoor air-quality focus under the Clean Air Act, some pro- grams are designed to address indoor air quality. Many Americans spend 65% to over 90% of their time indoors (Allen et al. 2007; Wallace and Ott 2011). Expo- sures to certain pollutants released from building materials and consumer prod- ucts are often substantially greater indoors than outdoors (Hoskins 2011). EPA has extensive authority over chemicals and microbial agents found or used in the indoor environment under environmental laws including the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. It also sets the guideline for acceptable levels of radon in indoor air. EPA is a leader in understanding the dynamics of vapor intrusion from soil gas into buildings and it conducts research on human exposure in the indoor environment and corre- sponding health effects (EPA 2005, 2011c, 2012a,b,c).
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Challenges of the 21st Century 37 The agency's efforts to improve air quality continue to have high priority despite decades of progress because the economic costs that air pollution im- poses on society remain high. For example, Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use (NRC 2010) estimated that the aggregate damages in the United States associated with air pollution from the country's coal-fired power plants were at least $62 billion in 2005 and that air pollution from motor vehicles contributed at least another $56 billion in dam- ages. The Clean Air Act is an expensive law in terms of compliance, but it still has a highly positive benefit-to-cost ratio (EPA 2011d). EPA recently issued a report called The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020 (EPA 2011d). According to that study, the direct benefits from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments are estimated to be almost $2 trillion by the year 2020, exceeding costs by a factor of more than 30 to 1. Impacts of Climate Change In the last several decades, it has become clear that human activities have had substantial effects on global climate. The global temperature has increased by an average of 0.6oC since 1901 (IPCC 2007) and variability has increased as well, especially in patterns of precipitation and runoff. That pattern led Milly et al. (2008) to conclude that "stationarity is dead" 1 in the context of water- resource management and to suggest that a new paradigm is needed for dealing with the fact that human society can no longer count on the conformity of mean precipitation--or even variability in annual precipitation--to historic patterns. Many climatologists, while concerned about the increase in mean global tem- perature, are focused on the changes in extreme temperatures and precipitation (such as floods and droughts) because the extremes cause greater social and eco- logic disruption than a shift in average temperatures. Climate change may be the most obvious example of the need for systems thinking in policy-making, given complex interactions between regional air quality and climate change and the numerous pathways by which the environment and human health can be influ- enced. Many of the factors discussed earlier in this chapter will have direct and indirect influences on climate change, which will itself influence land use pat- terns and other drivers. There is evidence that the climate change that has occurred in recent dec- ades has made it harder and more expensive to address air-quality problems (see, for example, Bloomer et al. 2009 and IWGSCC 2010). Furthermore, there is strong scientific consensus that in coming decades climate change is likely to increase the frequency of heat waves, exacerbate problems with water supply and water quality, increase the severity of storms, and disrupt ecosystems, habi- 1 Stationarity is the term used when statistics (such as mean, median, variance) are constant through time.
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Challenges of the 21st Century 43 Excess nutrients reach surface-water resources in direct discharges from point sources (for example, municipal wastewater-treatment plants) and from diffuse nonpoint sources (for example, nutrient runoff from farmland, urban, and suburban areas and air pollution). Because the nutrient-use efficiency of crops is less than 100%, farmers need to apply more nutrients to their fields than the plants need for healthy growth. The challenge for all farmers is to add fertil- izer at the optimal time and rate and then to keep the nutrients in the field. Con- comitant with the substantial increases in agronomic yields that have allowed agriculture and fish production to meet the food needs of 7 billion people has been a need for higher rates of application of fertilizers, which have exacerbated runoff, limited the effectiveness of strategies for remediating eutrophication, and resulted in production of nitrous oxide as a byproduct of nitrification and denitri- fication processes. (Nutrient sources for the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are shown in Figure 2-1.) Addressing the nutrient loading will require increased scientific understanding, including new information on pollution sources, on emerging technologies that could be used in agriculture and in wastewater treatment, on water quality conditions, and on the response of eco- systems to increasing nutrient loads and shifting stochiometry. Such scientific understanding can be gained only through integrated research. The Chesapeake Bay, North America's largest estuary, offers a highly instructive example of contributions made by EPA and allied researchers to a more fundamental understanding of the physical processes that lead to the ef- fects of nutrient pollution. Substantial reductions in nutrient discharges from sewage-treatment plants, factories, and other point sources of pollution have been achieved in the bay watershed since the 1970s but are insufficient to meet water-quality goals. The challenges faced by the Chesapeake Bay eco- system are shared by many other ecosystems, but the differences among them make the required research and the effective tools for addressing the chal- lenges more complex. For example, 500 km to the north of the Chesapeake Bay lies Narragansett Bay. Although smaller than its southern cousin, it shares many historical and ecologic characteristics; but the challenges faced today by the Narragansett Bay (where EPA's Atlantic Ecology Division Laboratory is located) have developed in very different ways. The region has historically been dominated by agricultural activity, but that is no longer the case. Today, Narragansett Bay suffers from excess nitrogen inputs, largely from upstream wastewater-treatment facilities (Pryor et al. 2007). The upper reaches of the bay have been closed to shellfishing and swimming for decades. In 2004, Rhode Island mandated a minimum standard for effluent nitrogen from the wastewater facilities within its jurisdiction, yet the science suggests that with- out concomitant reductions in nitrogen from wastewater facilities upstream on the Blackstone River in Massachusetts and reduction in nitrogen inputs that result directly and indirectly from air pollution, restoring the waters of the upper bay will be difficult (see Figure 2-2). Narragansett Bay, as a result of the large influence of sewered effluents, should be one of the easiest places to
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44 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead address chronic water-quality deterioration, but it has proved elusive even there. Nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) pollution is one of the more persistent and pervasive environmental problems in the United States, and it is worsening in many locations (Howarth 2008). The volume of nutrients reaching surface water and groundwater has increased substantially since the middle of the 20th century as a result of a complex of factors, including population growth, changes in land cover, increased fossil fuel combustion, and changes in the structure of agricultural production (Selman et al. 2008). Providing the scientific foundations for the de- velopment of policies that can reduce nutrient-pollution problems will require in- novative economic, social-science, and natural-science research. The challenges are particularly difficult because the hydrologic, ecologic, economic, and social processes affecting the magnitude and scope of nutrient pollution and its conse- quences are complex, multi-scaled, and spatially variable. To deal effectively with this complex problem, a framework for incorporating human and environmental interactions, such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment framework (see Chapter 1) would prove useful. Nutrient pollution should be approached from a broad perspective that uses systems thinking (see Chapter 4) and there are exam- ples in which EPA is already taking steps in this direction with the Chesapeake Bay Program and the New YorkNew Jersey Harbor Estuary Program. The prob- lem may not be getting progressively worse, but there are still many challenges to attaining further improvements. The prospects are that eutrophication will con- tinue to be a challenge until policies to control nutrients are made more effective (Cary and Migliaccio 2009; Spiertz 2009). FIGURE 2-1 Sources of phosphorus and nitrogen in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay. Source: EPA 2010b.
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Challenges of the 21st Century 45 FIGURE 2-2 Narragansett Bay nitrogen loading from 1850 to 2015 under several different scenarios. Scenario 0 (S0), current conditions and no improvements in wastewater treatment; scenario 1 (S1), current conditions and implementation of all mandated reductions in nutrient from wastewater-treatment plants; scenario 2 (S2), all wastewater treatment plants have a maximum effluent nitrogen of 8 mg/L in summer, 25% reduction in nitrogen air-pollution concentrations, and 25% reduction in fertilizer use in the watershed; scenario 3 (S3), all wastewater-treatment plants have a maximum effluent nitrogen concentration of 3mg/L in summer, 50% reduction in nitrogen air- pollution concetrations, and 50% reduction in fertilizer use in the watershed. Source: Vadeboncouer et al. 2010. Reprinted with permission; copyright 2010, Estuaries and Coasts. Shifting Spatial and Temporal Scales In the early days of environmental remediation and pollution control, the problems were more obvious. One could see, indeed often even smell or taste, the pollutants, and local causes could be easily identified. As progress has been made in cleaning up the local problems and as more has been learned about the health and environmental consequences of chronic low-dose exposures to di- verse chemicals, much of the focus has moved to wider geographic areas. The spatial scales required to understand emerging environmental issues vary widely and are increasing as more is learned about the systems underlying the observed phenomena. Acid rain and photochemical air pollution are regional problems, and monitoring, modeling, and control activities have shifted accordingly. EPA's long-standing involvement in regional-scale air quality monitoring and modeling research includes the multi-agency National Acid Precipitation Assessment Pro- gram (NAPAP 1991), which was authorized by Congress in 1980 and informed
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46 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead the acid rain provisions of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. EPA continues to work with other federal and state agencies to improve understanding of the nature and consequences of air pollutant deposition to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on regional scales. More recently, EPA has conducted and supported research linking global climate projections to regional-scale air quality (EPA 2009), which has demonstrated the potential for global climate change to exac- erbate the challenge of meeting health-based air quality standards. Regional long-term approaches for assessment and problem-solving have also been im- plemented in the water quality arena, including for the Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades, and the Great Lakes Basin (Table 2-2). In the future, EPA will need to develop a better understanding of the sources, transport, and fate of global-scale pollutants to avoid the possibility that little improvement in envi- ronmental quality occurs even when local investment is large. For example, al- though lead from local sources, such as coal-fired power plants, is important, these local emissions are superimposed on a global background of lead, some of which is transported on intercontinental scales from both natural and anthropo- genic sources (UNEP 2006). Mercury transport at the regional and global scale is another example. It is not feasible for EPA to undertake all the global-scale monitoring and modeling that are needed, but it can work proactively with other US federal agencies (such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administra- tion, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Sci- ence Foundation) and with international organizations to ensure that the issues that it most needs to understand remain high on research agendas. (See Chapter 4 for a discussion on collaboration.) Current environmental challenges are ex- panding not only in space but also in time. Some responses to perturbations are rapid (such as algal blooms), others are slow (such as vegetation response to climate change). To understand how and why these effects unfold, long-term data are needed to characterize the changes, the causes, and the potential impli- cations of different policy options. (The needs for such data are discussed fur- ther in Chapters 3 and 4.) Without the perspective provided by long-term data, it is easy to assume wrongly that short-term variations in environmental character- istics reflect substantive changes in the environment, and it is easy to miss im- portant but subtle or slow changes in the environment. SUMMARY This chapter discusses some of the major factors driving changes in the environment and gives illustrative examples of the complex and multi- disciplinary challenges that EPA faces now and will probably face in the future. To address those challenges, EPA will need to continue to develop and support scientific methods, tools, and technologies that apply a systems-thinking ap- proach to understand environmental changes and their effects on human health (see Chapter 4).
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TABLE 2-2 Large Regional Water Programs in the US Environmental Protection Agency Watershed or Water System Key Stressors and Issues EPA Leadership Science and Engineering Focus Chesapeake Bay, North America's · Eutrophication caused by nutrient · EPA, Region 3 Mid-Atlantic · Developed a number of innovative largest estuary (EPA 2012e) enrichment · Chesapeake Bay: A Framework tools · Nitrogen for Action (EPA 1983a,b) provided a · Nitrogen-removal technology at · Stressed by pressures of growing framework for additional research wastewater-treatment plants populations, industrial pollution, and policy initiatives based on the · Computer model built to simulate atmospheric deposition of air pollutants, Chesapeake Bay Program, which was how the massive 64,000-mi2 watershed and conversion of forests to farms and established in 1983 as a partnership of processes nutrient and sediment urban areas the EPA, Maryland, and Virginia allocations Everglades, a sub-tropical wetlands · Altered hydrology · EPA, Region 4 · Aquifer storage and recovery watershed Florida, which houses the · Mercury · The Comprehensive Everglades · Ecosystem restoration Everglades National Park (EPA 2007) · Phosphorus Restoration Plan is an ambitious, · One of the strongest aspects of · Soil erosion multi-billion-dollar and multi-decadal the Comprehensive Everglades · One of the most threatened restoration program involving federal Restoration Plan science program is subtropical preserves in the United and state governments its monitoring and assessment program States · EPA developed the Everglades (see, for example, NRC 2003) Ecosystem Assessment Program, which · Developed scientific tests, contributes to the joint federalstate experiments, and physical models Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan Great Lakes Basin, the largest · Climate change associated with · EPA, Region 5 · The largest investment in the transboundary freshwater system in the lowering lake level · Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Great Lakes in two decades world (Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, · Invasive species action plan · Priority "focus areas" were Ontario, and Superior and five major · Nutrients · A Great Lakes inter-agency task "1) cleaning up toxics and toxic hot spot connecting rivers: Detroit, Niagara, · Pathogens force was formed to coordinate federal areas of concern; 2) combating invasive St. Clair, St. Lawrence, and St. Mary's) · Mercury loading (alone and with and bi-national restoration efforts species; 3) promoting near-shore health (EPA 2011e). contaminated sediments) by protecting watersheds from polluted · Effects on community health, run-off; 4) restoring wetlands and other tourism, fisheries, power industry, and habitats; and 5) tracking progress, grids; human health and ecosystems are education, and working with strategic seen as being at risk partners" (MI DNR 2011) 47
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48 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead The drivers outlined in this chapter are often overlapping and their nature is changing over time. For example, in the United States, chemical exposures from industrial facilities are decreasing significantly; dispersed, non-point, and less controllable exposures from chemicals used in products may represent a larger percentage of the current chemical burden to ecosystems and humans. As illustrated by the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay, multiple overlapping fac- tors, such as land use and changing land-use patterns, population growth, the agricultural use of fertilizers and pesticides, and direct and non-point chemical exposures may result in human and environmental effects. The complexity of these interacting factors in environmental degradation creates great challenges for environmental science and decision-making. The siloed, disciplinary approaches that have often been taken to monitor for and characterize singular types of effects and to develop control measures will not be sufficient to understand and prevent environmental changes and their health effects. There is a need for greater attention to understand the complex systems in which human activities are causing effects and how those effects interact. Ultimately, prevention of these complex effects will require greater systematic efforts to understand the way in which products, consumptive sys- tems (such as energy), communities, and other human activities are designed and carried out. REFERENCES Allen, J.G., M.D. McClean, H.M. Stapleton, J.W. Nelson, and T.F. Webster. 2007. Per- sonal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in residential indoor air. Environ. Sci. Technol. 41(13):4574-4579. Alvarez, R.A., S.W. Pacala, J.J. Winebrake, W.K. Chameides, and S.P. Hamburg. 2012. Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109(17):6435-6440. ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers). 2009. Report Card 2009 Grades [online]. Available: https://apps.asce.org/reportcard/2009/grades.cfm [accessed April 29, 2012]. Bates, B.C., Z.W. Kundzewicz, S.Wu, and J.P. Palutikof, eds. 2008. Climate Change and Water. IPCC Technical Paper VI. Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [online]. Available: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/technical-papers/climate-change- water-en.pdf [accessed Mar. 28, 2012]. Bloomer, B.J., J.W. Stehr, C.A. Piety, R.J. Salawitch, and R.R. Dickerson. 2009. Observed relationship of ozone air pollution with temperature and emissions. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36:L09803. Brownstone, D. and T.F. Golob. 2009. The impact of residential density on vehicle usage and energy consumption. Journal of Urban Economics. 65:91-98. Bullard, R.D. 2000. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality, 3rd Ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Bushaw-Newton, K.L., and K.G. Sellner. 1999. Harmful Algal Blooms. In NOAA's State of the Coast Report. Silver Spring, MD: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin- istration [online]. Available: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/websites/retiredsites/sotc_ pdf/hab.pdf [accessed Mar. 27, 2012].
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