In 2010, in recognition of the agency’s 40th anniversary, a distinguished group of environmental professionals representing government, nongovernment organizations, and the private sector assembled to identify EPA’s key achievements (Aspen Institute 2010). The list included removing lead from gasoline to improve air quality and children’s health, reducing acid rain to improve water quality in lakes and streams, reducing exposure to second-hand smoke by identifying environmental tobacco smoke as a human carcinogen, spurring improvements in vehicle efficiency and emission control, testing requirements and encouraging “green chemistry”, banning widespread use of dichlorodiphenyltri-chloroethane (DDT), encouraging a shift to rethinking of waste as materials, and highlighting concerns about environmental justice. EPA scientists and engineers have been at the center of each of those accomplishments, developing cutting-edge tools for modeling and monitoring natural and engineered environmental systems, designing regulatory approaches to encourage private-sector innovation, and interpreting health and ecosystem science that is generated by external sources to inform policy decisions (EPA 2012b,c).
EPA’s role in advancing environmental science and engineering continues. The agency leads research and development efforts, such as codevelopment of a system that provides early warning for water utilities to detect potential contamination (EPA 2011c). The agency is leading efforts to transform chemical toxicity testing by developing a cutting-edge computational toxicology center via unprecedented trans-federal collaborations with the National Institutes of Health (especially the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program) and the Food and Drug Administration (EPA 2012d). This interagency cooperation has resulted in the development of Tox21. The agency also leads work with Canada to assess the condition and protection of the Great Lakes (EPA 2009). EPA is the only major agency that is supporting the development of new molecular methods for assessing viruses in groundwater, Cryptosporidium and other emerging pathogens in water, and microbial source tracking tools for addressing impairment. And EPA continues to play a leading role internationally in advancing the scientific understanding of continental-scale and global-scale atmospheric chemistry and transport with recent efforts to refine models for short-term forecast applications and efforts to understand how air-quality problems might be affected by long-term climate change.
Challenges Facing the Environmental Protection Agency
EPA scientists and engineers are addressing some of the nation’s most complex technical challenges, such as standard-setting for chemical pollutants, dealing with emerging waterborne pathogens, and protection of air and water resources. Owing to its legislative mandates, EPA investigations are often initiated in response to a crisis or new information that identifies a hazard to human health or the environment. Much of EPA’s science has been reactive, addressing problems after they have become widespread and focusing on cleanup or “end of