Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Senate Hearing On EPA Toxic Chemical Policies

Apr 29: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), held an Oversight Hearing on EPA Toxic Chemical Policies. Witnesses testifying at the hearing include James Gulliford, EPA Assistant Administrator for Pesticides, Prevention, and Toxic Substances; the U.S. Government and Accountability Office (GAO); and representatives of the Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences Department, University of California, San Francisco; the WELL Network; Fanwood Chemical, Inc. on the behalf of the Synthetic Organic Chemicals Manufacturers Association; Integrative Biostrategies, LLC; and Occupational and Environmental Health, Johns Hopkins University. Senator Boxer and Ranking Member James Inhofe also delivered opening statements.

In her remarks, Senator Boxer said the hearing would reveal "some disturbing news about the White House and the Bush Administration’s efforts to corrupt EPA’s toxic chemical risk assessment process. By placing politics before science, the Bush Administration is putting the public in harms way. This according to the GAO and EPA scientists." Boxer said, EPA regulates toxic chemicals in the environment under several laws but the overall toxic chemicals law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, or “TSCA,” was adopted in 1976 and was supposed to help assure that toxic chemicals would be restricted or banned if they were hazardous. She said, "TSCA puts the burden on the government to prove a toxic chemical is a risk. That is unlike the European program, called REACH [Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH),
See WIMS 3/19/08, See EcoBizPort REACH]. REACH puts the burden on the chemical industry -- where it should be -- to show that their chemicals are safe."

On April 10, U.S. EPA's Office of Research and Development, announced that the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) database and process for developing chemical assessments would undergo several changes "to increase its transparency and efficiency." EPA said the changes include: an expanded process for recommending a substance be assessed; the earlier involvement of other agencies and the public; hosting “listening sessions” to allow for the broader participation and engagement of interested parties; and an even more rigorous scientific peer review of IRIS assessments [See WIMS 4/10/08]. EPA’s IRIS program is a chemical evaluation program that is a critical component of EPA’s capacity to support scientifically sound environmental regulations and policies. The IRIS database contains EPA’s scientific position on the potential human health effects of exposure to more than 540 chemicals.

Senator Boxer released a GAO report entitled, Chemical Assessments: Low Productivity and New Interagency Review Process Limit the Usefulness and Credibility of EPA's Integrated Risk Information System (GAO-08-440, March 7, 2008). She said the report "criticizes the Bush Administration changes to the risk assessment process and makes clear the danger faced by the public when political interference and the influence of polluters affects EPA’s ability to address the risks of toxic chemicals. Under EPA’s new approach politics can be -- and already has been -- injected into multiple stages in the process. Even worse, the new procedure effectively requires the White House the Department of Defense (DOD) -- which contracts out much of its weapons programs -- to agree with EPA on any risk assessment before it goes forward and is made public. The entire process of White House and interagency debate is kept secret, which GAO and EPA scientists say undermines the credibility of EPA’s scientific assessments. That is because EPA scientists are being pushed aside by White House operatives and polluters."

In its review GAO found, among other items, that the IRIS database is at serious risk of becoming obsolete because EPA has not been able to routinely complete timely, credible assessments or decrease its backlog of 70 ongoing assessments -- a total of 4 were completed in fiscal years 2006 and 2007. In its testimony GAO said that EPA’s new process is largely the same as the draft GAO evaluated [prior to the April 10 release], and some key changes also are likely to further exacerbate the productivity and credibility concerns GAO identified. GAO testified, "GAO continues to believe it is critical that input from all parties—particularly agencies that may be affected by the outcome of IRIS assessments—be publicly available. As recommended in GAO’s March 2008 report, to effectively maintain IRIS, EPA must, among other things, streamline its lengthy assessment process and adopt transparency practices that provide assurance that IRIS assessments are appropriately based on the best available science and that they are not inappropriately biased by policy considerations. Since EPA’s new process is not responsive to GAO’s recommendations, the viability of this critical database has been further jeopardized."

Access the hearing website with links to all testimony, opening statements, the full 89-page GAO report, related letters & documents and a webcast of the hearing (
click here). Access an EPA release on it new IRIS process (click here). Access the IRIS website (click here). Access links to contacts, a 9-page EPA description of the process revisions, and a 5-page FAQ document (click here). [*Toxics]

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