Environmental monitoring is the systematic approach to observing and studying conditions of the environment. Monitoring typically involves collecting samples and specimens from the air, water and land to determine if any physical or biological factors are negatively impacting natural ecosystems and habitats. The Environmental Protection Agency uses environmental monitoring to set policy that protects human health and the environment. The agency also conducts surveillance and compliance monitoring and requires state and local governments and certain businesses to do the same.
Continual surveillance of air, water and land quality helps to maintain the quality of life for all. For instance, major metropolitan areas install air monitoring stations to evaluate air quality. The goal is to determine if the air contains harmful levels of pollutants that can affect and impede respiratory function, especially in those who are unusually susceptible to the effects of poor air quality, such as the elderly and chronically ill.
The goal of environmental compliance monitoring is to confirm or verify that business and industrial activities that can impact the environment comply with restrictions and conditions that are set by governing environmental protection authorities at the federal, state and local levels. For example, manufacturing companies often have permits that dictate what can or cannot be released to the environment from their processes. They must conduct monitoring to verify compliance.