US ACC affirms support for EPA chemical assessment reform

10 January 2012 20:34  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A leading US chemicals trade group on Tuesday reaffirmed its support for a much-criticised federal testing programme for chemical products, saying that the controversial environmental assessment system can be saved and improved.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said it supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) integrated risk information system (IRIS), although that programme was the target of a new congressional study that identified ongoing problems and shortcomings.

ACC spokesman Scott Jensen said, “Despite claims that we’re trying to dismantle or stall the programme, we have been pretty clear that we want to see further improvements” in IRIS.

In its new analysis of IRIS, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) said while the agency made some initial improvements in the testing system, the process has again foundered.

The IRIS programme is supposed to assess the health effects of chemicals in commerce and to form the basis for their regulation.

However, that assessment programme has come under heavy criticism from the chemicals industry, members of Congress and, more recently, in a harsh review by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The NAS issued a report in April last year which challenged the EPA’s “unsupported” scientific conclusions and said future IRIS assessments would not be valid without a sound science foundation for the programme.

For example, the NAS study found that the EPA’s recent draft assessment of formaldehyde as a carcinogen “was not prepared in a logically consistent fashion, lacked clear links to an underlying conceptual framework and did not sufficiently document methods and criteria used to identify evidence for selecting and evaluating chemical studies”.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private non-profit institution chartered by Congress in 1863 to provide expert scientific advice to the federal government.

In its new study, GAO said “EPA has not fully addressed recurring issues concerning the clarity and transparency of its development and presentation of draft IRIS assessments”.

In addition, the GAO – the investigative and audit arm of Congress – said it is still unclear whether EPA can marshal the kind of third-party scientific review group that the earlier NAS study said was necessary to restore integrity to the IRIS system.

EPA has invited public nominations of scientists to serve on a special advisory committee to provide science-based review of the agency’s IRIS-related decisions.  The closing date for nominations to that panel was last Friday, 6 January.

EPA was asked whether it had received an adequate number and quality of nominees, but the agency had not responded on Tuesday.

The ACC said the GAO report “affirms widespread recognition, including recent comments from the Nation al Academy of Sciences, that despite a series of attempts to improve the IRIS process, the programme falls short of meeting the benchmarks of objectivity, scientific accuracy and transparency”.

However, Jensen said the GAO report “was pretty constructive and provides some good recommendations for EPA to follow through on”.

By: Joe Kamalick
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