Over 100,000 chemicals, pollutants, and toxic substances are used in the United States and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA uses risk assessment to determine the health risk from exposure to these substances, collectively referred to as contaminants. In the last 12 years, independent reviewers have examined this process and made recommendations for how it could be improved. GAO was asked to (1) identify the significant recommendations that have been made to improve human health risk assessment; (2) describe what EPA has done to modify its human health risk assessment process; (3) determine the effects these past modifications have had on the preparation of risk assessments; and (4) identify any additional actions experts believe EPA could take to improve its process, and the barriers it would face in doing so.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Environmental Protection Agency||To improve the overall quality, consistency, and transparency of its risk assessments, the Administrator of EPA should direct the appropriate agency entities to develop a strategy to ensure that offices engage in early planning to identify and seek the expertise needed, both within the EPA workforce and from external subject matter experts. The strategy should delineate such things as how EPA could use the available expertise to determine the needed data, the relevant default assumptions, the extent of internal and external review that needs to be included in the assessment, and the approach used to consistently involve a broad range of stakeholders--including the public, regulated industry, federal agencies, and advocacy groups--as appropriate to the risk assessment.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||To improve the overall quality, consistency, and transparency of its risk assessments, the Administrator of EPA should direct the appropriate agency entities to more proactively identify the data most relevant to the current risk assessment needs, including the specific studies required and how those studies should be designed, and communicate those needs to the research community. Increased collaboration among program offices in identifying needed data would help ensure that the resulting data will meet the needs of multiple offices. In addition, EPA should better communicate these data needs and better coordinate research planning with the external public and private research community to help focus EPA's limited resources.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||To improve the overall quality, consistency, and transparency of its risk assessments, the Administrator of EPA should direct the appropriate agency entities to ensure that risk assessors and risk managers have the skills needed to produce quality risk assessments by developing and implementing in-depth training. This training should address the needs of risk assessors and managers with varying levels of expertise by including basic courses, such as an overview of risk assessment, as well as more advanced courses on topics such as modeling, toxicology, and other advanced scientific techniques.|