Tuesday, January 10, 2012

GAO Finds that "Challenges" Remain with EPA's IRIS Chemical Assessment Program

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that "EPA faces both long-standing and new challenges in implementing the IRIS program," a conclusion of which EPA agrees and backs further improvements to increase the transparency and efficiency of its chemical risk assessment program - the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS.  GAO issued its final report on January 9, 2012 after issuing a preliminary report last year.

IRIS has come under attack from both industry and NGOs as either not adhering to "sound science" or "being too slow to complete assessments," respectively. 

The GAO report, "Challenges Remain with EPA's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program," recommends the EPA present a workable time frame for each step of the IRIS assessment process.  GAO also recommended that EPA work out how it will implement previous recommendations of the program offered by the National Academy of Sciences, and provide agendas for chemicals under review and when they will be completed. 

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) welcomed the GAO report, saying in their press release:

The report by the Government Accountability Office affirms widespread recognition, including recent comments from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), that despite a series of attempts to improve the process behind EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System, the program still falls short of meeting the benchmarks of objectivity, scientific accuracy and transparency. The report shows that these longstanding problems have yet to be addressed and EPA has not developed a clear plan for fixing IRIS.

And yet, a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an NGO, suggested that the chemical industry was engaging in a "delay game" to "duck" regulations. The NRDC report, "The Delay Game: How the Chemical Industry Ducks Regulations of the Most Toxic Chemicals," charges that weaknesses in TSCA "have allowed chemical companies to exploit the act by thwarting the EPA's attempts to finalize health assessments and delaying regulation of chemicals -- sometimes for decades."

How EPA will implement the GAO and NAS recommendations is uncertain, as is who will lead the effort since last week Paul Anastas, the head of EPA's Office of Research & Development, is leaving his position to return to academic life at Yale.

The GAO report can be downloaded as a PDF here.

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