US Senate leader says Bush corrupts toxic testing

30 April 2008 00:54  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The leading US senator on environmental issues charged on Tuesday that President George Bush and his administration have put Americans’ health at risk by corrupting the risk assessment process for toxic chemicals.


Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California), chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said that the Bush administration exposed a long-established risk assessment process to political interference and the influence of chemical companies.


However, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the committee, charged that Boxer had staged Tuesday’s hearing on federal oversight of toxic chemicals controls “as a ‘gotcha’ hearing to try and embarrass the administration instead of being a legitimate oversight hearing”.


Boxer said that a new study conducted by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that a 1985 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programme, the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), has fallen behind since 2000 because of actions by the Bush White House to broaden the review process.


The GAO report said the IRIS database “is at serious risk of becoming obsolete because EPA has not been able to routinely complete timely, credible assessments or decrease its backlog of 70 ongoing assessments”.  Only four assessments were completed in fiscal years 2006 and 2007, the office said.


Those delays, said the GAO report, were due in part because the Bush administration instituted reviews of IRIS research by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which in turn brought in oversight responsibility for IRIS work by the Department of Defense (DOD). Among other responsibilities, the OMB evaluates federal agency programmes and ensures that proposed regulations meet administration policy goals.


Boxer charged that the Bush initiative “effectively requires the White House and the Department of Defense … to agree with EPA on any risk assessment before it goes forward and is made public”.


“The entire process of White House and interagency debate is kept secret, which GAO and EPA scientists say undermines the credibility of EPA’s scientific assessments,” Boxer said.


She said the independent role of EPA scientists must be restored, “so that EPA can carry out its mission without secret interference”.


Inhofe countered by charging that Boxer and her staff had kept the GAO report on IRIS operations embargoed and beyond the reach of Republicans on the committee for more than six weeks, finally making it available only one business day before today’s hearing.


Inhofe said the Bush administration’s changes to the IRIS process broaden review to a wider community of scientists.


“These changes allow the public to be involved in the risk assessment process sooner.  Now, environmental groups, scientists, and the regulated community can provide data, research, and comments on risk assessments before they are finalised,” Inhofe said.


The hearing was part of a broader committee review of federal policies governing control of toxic chemicals.  Earlier, Boxer said she wanted Congress to pass legislation that would establish a more stringent chemical controls programme similar to the EU’s REACH.

By: Joe Kamalick
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