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Toxic Chemicals: EPA's New Assessment Process Will Increase Challenges EPA Faces in Evaluating and Regulating Chemicals

GAO-08-743T Published: Apr 29, 2008. Publicly Released: Apr 29, 2008.
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The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mission includes evaluating and regulating toxic chemicals. EPA's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program is a chemical evaluation program that is a critical component of EPA's capacity to support scientifically sound environmental regulations and policies. The IRIS database contains EPA's scientific position on the potential human health effects of exposure to more than 540 chemicals. This testimony highlights GAO's work on toxic substances, focusing on (1) its March 2008 report, Chemical Assessments: Low Productivity and New Interagency Review Process Limit the Usefulness and Credibility of EPA's Integrated Risk Information System and (2) key changes to the IRIS assessment process EPA included in its revised IRIS assessment process released on April 10, 2008. It also highlights the findings of two GAO reports on EPA's regulation of toxic chemicals. For the IRIS report, GAO analyzed EPA data and interviewed officials at relevant agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). For this testimony, GAO supplemented the IRIS report with a review of EPA's revised IRIS assessment process announced earlier this month. Given the importance of the IRIS program to EPA's ability to protect public health and the environment, Congress should consider requiring EPA to suspend its new process and develop one that is responsive to GAO's recommendations.


Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
In light of the importance of the IRIS program to EPA's ability to protect the public health and the environment, the Congress may wish to consider requiring EPA to suspend implementation of its new IRIS assessment process and develop a process that is responsive to our recommendations for a streamlined process that is transparent and otherwise responsive to our recommendations aimed at improving the timeliness and credibility of IRIS assessments. In addition, the Congress should consider requiring EPA to obtain and be responsive to input from the Congress and the public before finalizing a revised IRIS assessment process.
Closed – Implemented
In May 2009, EPA revised its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment process in response to GAO's recommendations, our placement of this program on GAO's high-risk list in January 2009, and oversight hearings by the House Science Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. EPA's actions in response to GAO and congressional oversight eliminated the need for further congressional action.

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Chemical agentsChemical exposureChemical regulationChemical researchChemicalsData integrityDatabasesEnvironmental monitoringHealth hazardsInformation disclosureInformation infrastructureInformation managementInteragency relationsPolicy evaluationProgram evaluationPublic healthQuality assuranceRegulatory agenciesReporting requirementsRisk assessmentRisk managementSchedule slippagesToxic substancesAssessmentsTimelinessTransparency