Chemical Assessment Changes | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: May 22, 2009

Chemical Assessment Changes

New EPA policy aims to boost scientific integrity
Department: Government & Policy

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

Jackson, on May 21, implemented a new policy designed to increase the scientific integrity of an EPA database called the Integrated Risk Information System. IRIS contains EPA scientific judgment on the safe daily dose of more than 500 chemicals.

Regulators from around the world rely on the database as they make decisions with big 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, p. 9). ??The Government Accountability Office, the congressional investigation agency, 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-NC), 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 related 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 approach was to blend both scientific findings and policy considerations. Critics said 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. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air & Nuclear Safety.

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