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EPA Chemical Assessment Needs More Improvements

by Cheryl Hogue
January 16, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 3

EPA has made improvements to its program for assessing the hazards of chemicals but needs to do more, says a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office. GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, has expressed concern for years about EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Regulators rely on IRIS—a publicly available scientific database of chemical hazard information—for setting standards for air and water pollution and cleanup of contaminated areas. The report says EPA has increased the public availability of information about how it conducts chemical assessments but needs to further augment the program’s transparency. Even though the agency has established a timeline for each step of an assessment, EPA is behind in completing analyses of specific chemicals, GAO finds. It recommends that the agency assess the feasibility of this timeline and change it as needed. It also recommends that EPA sponsor an independent scientific review of its plan for implementing recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 for improving chemical assessments. In addition, the agency also needs to publish an agenda for IRIS each year that identifies which chemicals EPA is addressing through this program and when it plans to start assessing other substances not yet addressed by the program, GAO says.


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