US environmental science is broken - industry official

03 February 2012 21:55  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The scientific process for regulatory decisions at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is dysfunctional, a leading chemical industry official said on Friday, arguing that the credibility of environmental rulemaking is in question.

Michael Walls, vice president for regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), told a congressional panel "the process for bringing science to bear in regulatory and policy decision-making at EPA and other federal agencies is broken”.

“The quality of that science has suffered as a result,” Walls said, “and the credibility and reliability of the decisions made on the basis of that science is at stake.”

Walls appeared before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment as part of the panel’s examination of reforms needed in EPA scientific processes and rulemaking.

Subcommittee chairman Andy Harris (Republican-Maryland) noted that “in nearly a dozen oversight hearings on specific EPA issues during this Congress, we have seen patterns of behaviour that suggest the need for significant reforms”.

In his testimony, Walls said many decisions of the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) “provide stark evidence that the quality and reliability of their science has eroded”.

The IRIS programme is supposed to make scientific assessments of the health effects of chemicals in commerce, findings that form the basis for their regulation by EPA. 

Members of Congress have charged that EPA's rulemakings are politically motivated and have accused the agency of scientific misconduct.

Walls said the EPA draft IRIS assessment of n-butanol “relies on two studies determined to be unreliable by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development” (OECD).

However, he added, “There is no indication that the conflict will be resolved to correct the IRIS assessment”.

He also cited a directive from the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that EPA take another scientific modelling approach to support the IRIS assessment of dioxin. Five years after the NAS directive, he said, EPA republished its assessment but still had failed to follow the NAS criteria for evaluation.

“The federal government’s processes for assessing risk lack a consistent, coherent, science-based framework,” Walls argued.

He said the council recommends that Congress and the EPA establish sound risk assessment processes, standards and criteria, incorporate emerging science and technology into the agency’s risk assessments, and enhance independent peer review processes for EPA decisions.

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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