The US Environmental Protection Agency should finalize guidelines for evaluating the risks of new chemicals to ensure its reviews are consistent and well documented, the agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG) says in an Aug. 2 report. The EPA should also ensure that all edits made to reviews of new chemicals are preserved, the report says.
The EPA acknowledges that its process for reviewing the safety of new chemicals needs an overhaul. For several years, the agency has blamed some of the dysfunction on staffing shortages. Last year, the EPA only had about three people reviewing the safety of new chemicals. Now it has about a dozen.
In response to the IG report, the EPA says it is committed to better documentation of decisions related to new chemicals. The agency also plans to hire more staff dedicated to reviewing the safety of new chemicals.
The IG recommendations come after years of turmoil in the EPA’s new chemicals program, including allegations that managers ignored safety concerns to get chemicals onto the market quickly under pressure from chemical manufacturers.
“This report signifies that the public health threat posed by the unending stream of new chemicals entering the marketplace remains largely unabated,” Kyla Bennett, science policy director at the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), says in a statement. “We welcome EPA’s acceptance of the IG’s recommendations as a small first step forward in reforming EPA’s broken program to assess the safety of new chemicals entering the market.”
PEER is representing EPA scientists who claim that assessments were improperly changed in 2021 to reduce the risk posed by new chemicals. Four of the scientists were moved out of the EPA’s new chemicals division after they objected to making the changes. The EPA’s IG is still investigating the matter and is expected to report its finding later this year, according to PEER.