Tuesday, April 30, 2013

GAO Issues Report on EPA's Effort to Enhance TSCA Chemical Regulation

At the request of some members of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has conducted another study on how EPA "has increased efforts to assess and control chemicals." GAO concludes that progress has been made but EPA could "strengthen its approach."

From the highlights:

GAO was asked to evaluate EPA’s efforts to strengthen its management of chemicals. This report determines the extent to which (1) EPA has made progress implementing its new approach and (2) EPA’s new approach positions it to achieve its goal of ensuring the safety of chemicals. GAO examined agency documents and TSCA rulemaking and interviewed agency officials and stakeholders from industry and environmental organizations.

The starting point was the 2009 announcement by EPA of TSCA reform principles. Because TSCA reform bills, most notably those introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg, have not resulted in any update to the 1976 law, EPA has been working hard to maximize its current authority under TSCA. The GAO assessed its progress. The results are mixed, at best.

The results of EPA’s data collection activities, in most cases, have yet to be realized, and it may take several years before EPA obtains much of the data it is seeking.

In fact, the GAO summarizes:

Of the 83 chemicals EPA has prioritized for risk assessment, it initiated 7 assessments in 2012 and plans to start 18 additional assessments in 2013 and 2014. However, it may take several years to complete these initial risk assessments and, at the agency’s current pace, over a decade to complete all 83, especially as EPA does not have the toxicity and exposure data needed for 58 of the 83 chemicals prioritized for risk assessment.

While GAO recommends that EPA "develop strategies that address challenges impeding its ability to ensure chemical safety," the impeding challenges are well known - Congress simply won't take the steps necessary to modernize the nearly four-decade-old chemical law.

In a letter responding to the draft GAO report, Acting Assistant Administrator James Jones noted that GAO has several times before called for Congress to update the antiquated TSCA law:

It is EPA's position that, absent such statutory changes, the Agency will not be able to successfully meet the goal of ensuring chemical safety now and into the future.

With no realistic update to the law in sight, and constant attacks on EPA's budget, any blame for lack of chemical safety should be placed where it belongs - on Congress.

The full GAO report can be downloaded here.