Chemical Assessment Changes | June 1, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 22 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 22 | p. 7 | News of The Week
Issue Date: June 1, 2009

Chemical Assessment Changes

New EPA policies aim to boost scientific integrity
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Climate Change
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: EPA, Regulation, IRIS policy
EPA made big changes to Bush Administration policies in late May.
Credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN
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EPA made big changes to Bush Administration policies in late May.
Credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN

Two controversial Bush Administration policies affecting assessments of chemical risks and air-quality standards have been overturned by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

Late last month, Jackson implemented a new policy designed to increase the scientific integrity of an EPA database called the Integrated Risk Information System. IRIS contains scientific judgments from EPA on the safe daily dose of more than 500 chemicals.

Regulators from around the world rely on the database when making decisions that have significant financial impact, such as the degree of cleanup a polluter must undertake at a contaminated site and how much human exposure to a chemical is allowable.

The Bush Administration's IRIS policy, unveiled last year, gave federal polluters, notably the Departments of Defense and Energy, more sway over EPA's chemical risk assessments (C&EN, April 21, 2008, page 9). The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, strongly criticized the Bush Administration's move, saying it limited the scientific credibility of EPA's chemical assessments (C&EN, May 5, 2008, page 10).

Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), chairman of the House Science & Technology Subcommittee on Investigations & Oversight, praises Jackson's move. The new policy "requires that any interagency discussion be solely about the science, and no agency can take a chemical assessment off the table. Most important, the entire process is in the open—not behind closed doors," he says.

In a second move, Jackson changed the Bush Administration's policy for reviewing and setting health-based air-quality standards under the Clean Air Act. The Bush Administration's approach was to blend both scientific findings and policy considerations. Critics say this process diminished the role of agency scientists and boosted political influence in the process (C&EN, Dec. 18, 2006, page 15).

Jackson's action will require creation of a science-based analysis of the health effects of individual air pollutants. This will restore the role that agency scientists play in determining air-quality standards, says Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air & Nuclear Safety.

 
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