July 23, 2003
Contact: Karl Wagener, Executive Director
COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY LAUDS OPEN SPACE ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND INVASIVE SPECIES ACT; EXPRESSES CAUTION ON AIR QUALITY
HARTFORD -- Connecticut broke all previous records for land conservation in 2002, but saw slower progress in air quality and a few other important environmental indicators, according to the annual report of the state Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which was released today. The report marks 30 years since the first CEQ report was delivered to Governor Thomas Meskill in 1973.
The report also identifies invasive species as the second biggest threat to Connecticut’s natural habitats, and commended the General Assembly and Governor John Rowland for “laying the cornerstone” this year for future progress on this problem.
“We have reported record-breaking years for open space conservation in the past,” said Council Chairman Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. of New Canaan, “but 2002 was like no other.”
The biggest reason for the exceptional record was the permanent protection of more than 18,000 acres of land owned by the BHC Company, commonly known as
the “Kelda Lands” after BHC’s parent company. The report termed this project a “historically significant conservation triumph.”
On other matters, the Council uses a set of indicators to chronicle the state’s progress in improving Connecticut’s air, land, water, and wildlife. The report states, “The overall story told by these indicators is one of slow but steady progress. In 2002, most revealed improved conditions. However, there are a few important indicators that once showed long-term progress but now display no discernible trend.” These include the number of days when air pollution meets all health standards (or “Good Air Days”), and the percentage of drinking water that meets all standards.
“While the long-term improvement in CT’s air has been dramatic, the Council notes that the more recent past does not show a positive trend toward the state’s ultimate goal of clean air every day by 2007,” said Thomas Harrison, a resident of Avon and a member of the Council.
For just the second time, the Council’s indicators were expanded to include trends in cancers that might have environmental triggers. Last year, the Council reported the upward trend in breast cancer and Connecticut’s status as having the greatest incidence rate of breast cancer among the 50 states. This year’s report added trends in Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma incidence, for which Connecticut ranks third. “While the specific links between these cancers and the environment are not firmly established at this time,” said Council member Susan Merrow, First Selectman of East Haddam, “the Council recommends that Connecticut pay more attention to the possible reasons behind these comparatively high rates.”
The inclusion of human health indicators is consistent with the Draft Report on the Environment released on June 23 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and also the 2001 recommendations of the Pew Environmental Health Commission.
The report also introduces the concept of “leading environmental indicators,” which are behavioral trends that could lead to environmental changes in future years. On the positive side, Connecticut residents, towns, and industries discharged less nitrogen to Long Island Sound and sent less garbage to landfills in 2002. On the negative, they drove more miles, took the bus less often, and recycled less of their trash.
The Council also states that while Connecticut is not prepared for the serious threat posed by non-native or alien invasive species of plants and animals, it took an important first step during the 2003 legislative session with the adoption of Public Act 03-136, An Act Concerning Invasive Plants. The new law will establish an Invasive Plants Council to oversee the necessary battle against destructive pests such as Hydrilla and Mile-a-Minute, two species that are costing state residents and conservation organizations considerable sums of money.
Copies of the report are available for free from the Council on Environmental Quality at 79 Elm Street, Hartford, CT 06106. [e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]
The Council is a state agency, independent of the Department of Environmental Protection, that reports on the status of Connecticut’s environment. Its nine members, who serve without compensation, are appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.
END OF NEWS RELEASE
Highlights of “Environmental Quality in Connecticut” for 2002:
- Open Space triumph: The State of Connecticut, along with its municipalities and conservation organizations, put more than 23,000 acres of land under permanent protection, which establishes a new record for Connecticut. This includes the 18,000 acres of so-called “Kelda Lands.”
- Invasive Species are the second biggest threat to Connecticut’s natural habitats (according to a 2002 CEQ Special Report, “Great Infestations”). In early 2003, the General Assembly and Governor John Rowland laid the cornerstone for future action by enacting Public Act 03-136, An Act Concerning Invasive Plants.
- Most environmental indicators show slow but steady progress. Two exceptions are:
- Air Quality: After years of steady progress, the number of days with good air shows no discernible trend, nor does the yearly average of total air pollution.
- Water Quality: The percentage of public water that meets all standards, though still above 99 percent, has declined since 1999.
- New indicator: Incidence of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has shown a substantial increase since the 1930’s. Some hypotheses point to certain contaminants in the environment, though the evidence is not firm. Connecticut ranks third among the 50 states in Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and first in the incidence of breast cancer, which was added to the CEQ report a year ago. These two indicators, though imperfect, reflect the Council’s growing interest in human health and the environment.
- New: Leading Environmental Indicators. The CEQ has labeled seven indicators as “Leading Environmental Indicators” because they show trends in human behavior that are expected to show up as changes in air and water quality in future years. These indicators are split in their recent trends, with improvements to nitrogen discharges to Long Island Sound, and garbage going to landfills, but with undesirable trends in recycling, vehicle traffic, and bus ridership.