Congress report says US toxics controls are obsolete

22 January 2009 20:39  [Source: ICIS news]

US report says toxics rules obsoleteWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--A US congressional study said on Thursday that federal risk assessment procedures for potentially toxic substances are nearly obsolete and need new authority to force chemical firms to demonstrate their products’ safety.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in its report that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “has been unable to keep its existing assessments current or to complete assessments of important chemicals of concern”.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said that EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) “is at serious risk of becoming obsolete”.

“Overall, EPA has finished only nine assessments in the past three years,” the GAO report said.  “At the end of 2007, most of the 70 ongoing assessments had been underway for more than five years.”

“EPA urgently needs to streamline and increase the transparency of this assessment process,” the GAO said.

The agency’s ability to protect public health and the environment “depends on credible and timely assessments of the risks posed by toxic chemicals”, the report said, adding that the EPA needs additional powers to meet its obligations.

“The agency requires additional authority than currently provided in the Toxic Substances Control Act [TSCA] to obtain health and safety information from the chemical industry”, the GAO said.

The TSCA is the principal US federal chemicals control statute. It has not been substantively revised since it was passed in 1976. 

Many in Congress want TSCA to be expanded into a US version of the EU programme for the registration, evaluation, authorisation of chemicals (REACH), which requires that chemical producers first prove that their products are harmless.

The TSCA system is risk-based and bars commercial use of chemicals that are shown to pose a risk to human health or the environment in their use and application.

The GAO study said that EPA needs additional authority beyond that granted in TSCA “to obtain health and safety information from the chemical industry and to shift more of the burden to chemical companies to demonstrate the safety of their products”.

The GAO report is seen as lending still more support to those in Congress, such as Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California), who want to reshape TSCA in the image of REACH.

Boxer is chairwoman of the powerful Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and has said earlier that she wants Congress to establish a more stringent chemical controls programme similar to REACH.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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