EPA Air Quality Data Faces Information Quality Challenges

An individual affiliated with the Texas Academy of Science recently submitted two data quality petitions to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging information regarding air quality. First Request The first petition dated September 25, 2003 claims that ozone concentrations measured during the summer of 2002 in a San Antonio location were inaccurate. The measurements were taken at CAMS (Continuous Air Monitoring Station) 23 and submitted to EPA from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The petitioner contends the ozone analyzer at the facility was faulty and therefore flawed data appears on various EPA web sites including the EPA AIRNow site and various other sites. The petitioner also claims that the information is inaccurate because the error range allowed by EPA is too large. The individual recommends initiating a peer review panel to examine standards and suggests that the calibration standards comply with the best available monitoring requirements of the Clean Air Act. These recommendations are actually policy issues rather than data corrections and would be best dealt with through other means. Additionally, the petitioner recommends that EPA correct the EPA databases by removing information considered inaccurate from CAMS 23. While this recommendation is a data correction, it may be rejected as a state issue. Based upon the petitioner’s own description, the EPA is accurately disseminating the data reported from the state. Federal agencies often cannot confirm or correct all state data. In similar cases, the Department of Transportation rejected many data quality petitions seeking to correction information in accident reports generated at the state level because it was outside the Department’s realm. Agency Response EPA denied the petitioner’s request Jan. 12 on the basis that the agency met the requirements under the data quality guidelines. Specifically, EPA explained that the AIRNow website posts the CAMS 23 data in a “real-time” manner with only preliminary data quality checks. While EPA does not fully verify or validate the data, the agency does not believe that “real-time” data requires full validation. Furthermore, EPA does not use this data to create regulations, guidance, or other agency decisions. EPA maintains that the tabulated data the petitioner refers to on the AIRNow page is actually information maintained by other organizations to which EPA simply links. Therefore, this information is not considered EPA information and is exempt from EPA’s data quality guidelines. The agency determined that the other “various EPA websites” referred to in the challenge also includes the Air Quality System (AQS) database. This database manages and stores EPA’s ambient air quality criteria pollutant data. EPA contends the AQS information complies with the guidelines because the agency certifies the downloadable data through a formal process. Individual monitoring organizations that submit the data adhere to data quality standards before gaining certification; the letter details these standards in greater length. While EPA denied the request, the agency created a disclaimer for the AIRNow web page “Where You Live” to highlight quality considerations. Additionally, the agency plans to begin a public process for dealing with acceptance criteria for data. Second Request The same individual submitted a request for correction October 3, 2003 claiming that the EPA report “2002 Latest Findings on National Air Quality” contains information that is erroneous, incomplete, and not objective. The petitioner details 10 specific statements that he believes may be inaccurate. Each of these seems to more a disagreement with the report’s wording in a specific sentence or a belief that additional information should be included. No major conclusions or recommendations from the report appear to be challenged. The petition maintains that government air quality committees, students, media reporters and congressional staff would benefit from correct information. Additionally, the petitioner feels that he would benefit from information correction because he would spend less time explaining errors in the publication to people. EPA has not yet responded to the second challenge.
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