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Closing of libraries irks backers of the EPA

WASHINGTON -- As the Environmental Protection Agency closes some scientific libraries around the country, EPA scientists and other environmental advocates worry that it might be harder for the public to find out about pollutants spilling into local rivers and streams.

They fear that the agency's plan to save money by replacing printed resources with digitized versions on the Internet could make information less accessible.

"Nobody is against modernization, but we don't see the digitization," said Francesca Grifo, a botanist and the director of scientific integrity at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group for the environment and other scientific issues. "We just see the libraries closing."

The EPA has closed three of its 10 regional libraries -- branches in Dallas, Chicago, and Kansas City, Mo., that serve 15 states. EPA officials said that no information would be lost and that public access would be improved rather than compromised.

Regional EPA libraries in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle remain open, though some have reduced hours.

The EPA also has shut its headquarters library in the nation's capital as well as a specialized library on chemicals, with little or no public notice.

The "EPA is committed to ensuring the agency's library materials are available to employees, the public, the scientific community, the legal community and other organizations," Linda Travers, the acting assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Environmental Information, said in an e-mail.

Travers said material from the closed libraries will be on the website in January and through interlibrary loans.

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