EPA announces a much-improved IRIS chemical assessment process

Today the new EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, announced a new process for assessing toxic chemicals under the IRIS (Integrated Risk Information System) program, in addition to $5 million and 10 new employees for the IRIS program.

The new process puts a time limit of two years for an assessment (reasonably rapid in EPA-time), solicits comments on the science only (not policy or politics), makes written comments publicly available, and leaves final editing decisions with EPA (rather than needing final White House approval). Sounds obvious, but it is the opposite of the Bush-era practice!

In essence, the new process strips away the highly criticized Bush-Administration changes to the IRIS chemical assessment process that infused politics into the scientific assessment, delayed the process by years, and handed over final editing to the White House regulatory hatchet men, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I detailed the most offensive of these steps in an earlier blog on the issue. Even  the independent investigation arm of Congress, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), was highly critical of the Bush-era process.

Unfortunately, the review process announced today will still allow the White House office and polluting federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to have a bite at the apple with a comment period before the public has an opportunity to see the draft assessment. While this is likely to be problematic, there is some consolation that it is limited to 45 days, written comments will become part of the public record, and the comments are supposed to be science only. Hopefully, this will put a cap on whining about the draft IRIS assessment just because it seems likely to lead to clean-up or stricter exposure standards!

I hope that this new process will lead to more IRIS assessments being finalized each year, and more assessments of the most hazardous and most widespread chemical contaminants. These are the ones that we really need to target with solid science and health-protective policies, if we are to improve health where people live, work, and play!

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Health program

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