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Miller Calls on White House to Release Documentation on Toxic Chemical

Jun 11, 2008
Press Release

(Washington, DC) – Today, Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) sent a letter to the White House asking for all documents related to the long-delayed assessment of the chemical trichloroethylene (TCE).

The Subcommittee is examining whether the White House's continued efforts to delay assessments of the health risks posed by toxic chemicals is contributing to illness and premature death for thousands of Americans.    

"Politics should have no role in deciding what toxic effect a chemical may have," said Miller.  "The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has effectively blocked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from posting new health assessments of hazardous chemicals by prolonging the assessments because of inevitable uncertainties about the interaction of chemicals and human health. The result is confusion and uncertainty about potential health effects, leaving dozens of communities in the dark about dangerous levels of toxic chemicals." 

An updated health assessment of the risks of TCE exposure has been under consideration since 2001.  It has been repeatedly delayed due to interventions by other executive branch agencies that may have high clean up costs for TCE pollution, depending on where the health risk standard is set. OMB has enforced a string of studies and interagency discussions to delay this assessment for seven years.  The TCE assessment is projected to be ready for release in 2010 - despite the fact that, according the National Academies of Science, enough science has been available for last four years to establish a standard.  

The Subcommittee is interested in what kinds of communications have taken place between OMB, other executive agencies, and outside parties.  It is particularly interested to determine if political considerations and financial costs have trumped the consideration of basic science in assessing the risk of TCE.

Tomorrow, the Subcommittee will hold a hearing on IRIS, emphasizing the human impact when the scientific integrity of the database is compromised.  IRIS, or the Integrated Risk Information System, is the public database within EPA where toxic chemical health assessments are maintained.

The hearing will illustrate the connection between the experiences of individuals and communities with TCE pollution issues and the IRIS database.  State and local governments, companies and individuals all turn to IRIS to get an indication of what toxic chemical levels are considered unsafe in the air, ground or water.  That hearing will include testimony from Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine Master Sergeant who served at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.  Camp LeJeune has had very high levels of TCE in its drinking water for perhaps forty years or longer and Mr. Ensminger lost his daughter to leukemia after his family was stationed at the Camp.  

Two weeks ago the Subcommittee held the first hearing on IRIS.  At that hearing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified that their work on IRIS revealed a process that was secretive and unproductive.  An updated process announced by EPA on April 10, 2008 appeared to provide for even more secrecy and delay.  While EPA has averaged almost 20 assessments a year in draft in the past two years, OMB has only approved two per year for posting to IRIS.  An updated process announced by EPA on April 10, 2008 appeared to provide for more secrecy and delay.  

"Maybe there should be a balance between the right of our citizens to have a clean environment and good health and the interests of a few big agencies and big industries not to have to clean up after themselves or change their habits, but the White House appears to come down on the side of the polluters every time," Miller added.  "The question isn't whether there are uncertainties in science; the question is how much certainty do we need to tell people that a particular level of chemical exposure is potentially harmful.  With TCE, we have been at that point for more than two years, and yet the White House's involvement guarantees no action for another two years at least.  This has to stop."

The Chairman is considering introducing a bill that would restructure the IRIS assessment system to get politics out of the process.  

For more information, please see the Committee’s website. 



110th Congress