Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Inspector General Report Puts On More Pressure for TSCA Chemical Reform

This past week the Office of the Inspector General, which is part of the USEPA, released a report called "EPA Needs a Coordinated Plan to Oversee Its Toxic Substances Control Act Responsibilities." The report concludes that "EPA does not have integrated procedures and measures in place to ensure that new chemicals entering commerce do not pose an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment." They found limitations in three key processes - assessment, oversight, and transparency.

The OIG report recommended that EPA better coordinate risk assessment and oversight activities by establishing a management plan, establish criteria for selecting chemicals for low-level exposure and cumulative risk assessment, and development a management plan for TSCA enforcement. This last point is critical as the current enforcement activity is woefully funded and barely staffed. You can read the full report here and a critique by EDF scientist Richard Denison here.

Those who have been following the TSCA reform process will know that this isn't the first analysis of the weaknesses of TSCA. The GAO has had a series of reports over the years, and the common theme is that the data requirements of the 1976 law simply do not give EPA sufficient information to adequately protect human health and the environment. As I have been reporting, EPA has been working hard this past year to use it's current TSCA authority to the fullest, but even aggressive use of that existing authority cannot change the fact that EPA is, as Senator Lautenberg noted during his opening remarks at the recent Senate hearing, trying to do its job "with one hand tied behind its back."

The new TSCA will undoubtably have a base set of data that is required for new chemicals, and some mechanism for reviewing the Inventory of existing chemicals. If written correctly, it should allow enough flexibility for data to include not only the usual animal testing but also, and perhaps even in particular, non-animal data such as QSARs, read-across from similar chemicals, in vitro studies, and the new crop of testing being developed as part of the recommendations from the "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century" report.

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