Issue Date: April 21, 2008
Federal agencies facing cleanup liability will have more opportunities to influence—unduly, critics say—EPA's assessment of health risks from exposure to pollutants under a policy unveiled April 10.
The policy affects entries in EPA's Integrated Risk Information System, which contains EPA's scientific judgment on the safe daily dose of more than 500 substances. Regulators from around the world rely on the database for a variety of dollar-intensive decisions, such as the degree of cleanup a polluter must undertake at a contaminated site and how much human exposure to a chemical is allowable.
According to EPA, the changes will allow the public and other agencies to have an earlier involvement in chemical assessments and calls for "an even more rigorous scientific peer review" of these documents.
The new policy gives special treatment to chemicals deemed "mission critical" by other federal agencies, such as the military, NASA, and the Department of Energy. EPA says a mission-critical chemical is "an integral component to the successful and safe conduct of an agency's mission in any or all phases of its operations."
If it chooses to do so, a federal agency may take up to 18 months to conduct additional toxicity testing on a substance it considers a mission-critical chemical. EPA would delay completion of its risk review until it gets the results of those studies.
"These changes to EPA's risk assessment program are devastating," says Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment & Public Works Committee. "They put politics before science by letting the White House and federal polluters derail EPA's scientific assessment of toxic chemicals."
Jennifer Sass, a toxicologist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says federal polluters now have a chance to slow the process down by volunteering to do more research.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says the new policy also gives chemical manufacturers greater sway in the EPA assessments.
The American Chemistry Council, a major chemical industry advocacy group, did not respond to C&EN's requests for comments.
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