Natural Resources and Environment:

EPA's Efforts To Identify and Control Harmful Chemicals in Use

RCED-84-100: Published: Jun 13, 1984. Publicly Released: Jul 10, 1984.


Hugh J. Wessinger
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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) current progress in reviewing and controlling existing chemicals as mandated under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Since 1982, EPA has begun to make progress in implementing the existing chemicals program by establishing a process for identifying, assessing, and controlling existing chemical hazards. However, the chemicals program has had low priority in relation to other activities and, since fiscal year 1981, there has been a downward trend in funding for the program. EPA has begun to make progress in implementing the existing chemicals program by establishing a process for identifying, assessing, and controlling existing chemical hazards; developing a plan for implementing the program; and establishing an existing chemicals task force to develop, monitor, and manage the program. Since the act's passage, EPA has: (1) regulated 4 chemicals; (2) identified 60 chemicals that may present an unreasonable risk and need to be evaluated; and (3) determined that 41 additional chemicals require testing. Initially, EPA did not meet the act's mandate to initiate chemical test rulemaking proceedings within 1 year because of a lack of resources, and it had not proposed test rules. Finally, EPA has designated and assessed only two chemicals for 180-day priority review because those chemicals significantly increase the risk of harm from cancer, birth defects, or gene mutations.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress may want to consider alternatives for increasing the number of chemicals considered for priority review, if Congress believes that EPA should use this provision more frequently. Congress could: (1) require EPA to designate chemicals which are known to cause cancer, gene mutations, or birth defects; (2) establish an advisory group of representatives from federal research and regulatory agencies to recommend chemicals for EPA to consider for priority review; (3) provide EPA the authority to gather additional information to properly assess a chemical's risk during review; or (4) require EPA to include in its annual reports the chemicals it considered for priority review, its decisions, and the related reasons for the decisions.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Bills to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act were introduced by both requesting subcommittee chairmen, but these bills were not acted on by the full committees during the last session of Congress. Amendments to the act are not actively being considered because legislative committees are giving priority to other environmental legislation.

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should finalize proposed test rulemaking within a reasonable time, such as a goal of 12 to 18 months after proposal. If EPA is not able to finalize test rules in a reasonable time, it should inform Congress of the delay, the reasons, and suggest solutions such as negotiated testing agreements, additional resources, or legislative changes.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 1986, EPA published interim final procedures for the chemical testing process. EPA proposes to issue consent orders as an alternative to rulemaking, in appropriate circumstances. EPA believes that this procedure could save 12 to 18 months compared with the rulemaking process.

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