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Changing rules and budgets will improve transparency and
January 27, 2010
renew assessments of chemicals' health hazards at EPA —
but industry-produced computer models will still be used in
some toxicity assessments, an agency official admits.
Bryant Furlow, epiNewswire
Jan. 26, 2010 — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) is overhauling its handling of chemical trade secrets,
changing several rules and regulations over the past year to
reduce secrecy and hasten the assessment of chemicals'
Last year, the EPA stripped more than 500 chemicals of
"confidential business information" status, allowing the agency
to add them to its inventory of what chemicals are on the
This month, the agency announced that U.S. production of four
toxic chemicals, including deca-BDE flame retardant, a
suspected carcinogen, will be curtailed by 2013. The agency
also plans to start requiring manufacturers to disclose the
“inert” ingredients, including suspected carcinogens, in
thousands of pesticides.
Renewed Assessments of Chemical Health Hazards
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has also streamlined EPA’s
Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessments of
chemicals’ toxicity and cancer risks, ending Bush-era rules that
allowed White House and Pentagon interference in the
program's scientific review process.
By declaring chemicals such as the rocket fuel perchlorate—
a carcinogen and source of water and soil pollution at many
military bases—to be “mission critical,” the Defense
Department was able to stall the EPA’s assessment of that
chemical’s carcinogenicity throughout the Bush administration,
“Previously, if another federal agency felt a chemical was
mission critical, they could ask for the assessment to be
halted,” Peter Preuss, Director of the EPA’s National Center for
Environmental Assessment. “That meant an 18-month hiatus
on assessment. That step is completely gone now."
Other inter-agency reviews previously allowed the Pentagon,
Department of Energy and White House to repeatedly raise
objections and derail the assessment process, EPA sources
tell epiNewswire. Under those rules, polluting agencies could
delay environmental cleanup regulations and costs by slowing
“We’re no longer required (to secure) anybody else’s approval
to proceed with assessments, thereby eliminating the large
number of re-reviews that were taking place,” Preuss said.
“The point of review by other agencies is to focus on the
science and the science alone—not ‘oh my God, this is going
to kill the DoD mission'.”
Under the EPA's new rules, other agencies’ comments on EPA
chemical hazard assessments will be made public, Preuss said.
During the Bush administration, they were kept secret from the
public, he acknowledged.
“Staffing and budget remain an enormous challenge to IRIS
assessments, there’s no question,” Preuss added. “(But) we
did receive a sizable increase in dollars and staffing: $5 million
and 10 (employees), increasing our staff by roughly 25
percent. So I expect a concomitant increase in the number of
chemical assessments we do.”
For the near future, the task will be to clear the backlog of
assessments that piled up during the previous decade.
“We don’t really have a baseline to work from because of the
problems we had with the previous process and getting things
completed,” he explained. “A very large number of chemicals
need to be assessed. We have a pipeline full of assessments,
so our first objective is to try to complete the 40-plus
assessments already in the uppermost tier and get those
Preuss acknowledged the EPA will still utilize chemical toxicity
models developed by manufacturer groups like the Chemical
Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT) in its chemical hazards
“We use a model if we determine it’s a good model,” Preuss
said. “We check them very carefully. Sometimes they’re
submitted as part of industry response to comments,
notification, but often they’re published in the scientific
Asked for specific examples of industry toxicity models used in
EPA risk assessments, Preuss paused.
“Perchlorate was one," he said. "CIIT developed a
physiologically-based model. With modifications, we made use
of that model."
The agency at two things when deciding whether to use an
outside model, Preuss said.
"If it’s a complex model, we ask for the computer code for the
model and check to see if there are any mistakes in the code,"
he said. "With a million lines of code, there’s always a mistake
two, or 10. So the question is, are (mistakes) of importance or
not? The second thing we look at is the parameters used in the
model, the variables—-to see if we agree with the way in which
the values are used. There, we sometimes come to conclusion
that we’d use a different value. That can make a big difference.”
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
Environmental, health care, consumer and labor groups have
joined forces to create the "Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families"
Coalition to lobby for congressional reform of the 1976 Toxic
Substances Control Act (TSCA). (See box.)
"EPA is making great progress," says Terry Nordbrock,
Executive Director of the National Disease Clusters Alliance, a
member of the Coalition. "It will be even better later this year
when real TSCA reform switches the burden of proof for
chemical safety onto chemical manufacturers, not EPA."
Off the Books: Industry's Secret Chemicals
(Environmental Working Group)
The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act<
(Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition)
EPA's Essential Principles for Reform
of Chemicals Management Legislation.