Subcommittee Investigates EPA IRIS
(Washington, DC)—The Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing on the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), a database established in the 1980s to provide a single source of information on the risks associated with exposure to chemicals. The IRIS database provides a hazard identification and dose-response analysis, scientific information that when combined with estimates of exposure allow regulatory agencies to produce a risk assessment.
“Americans need an efficient system to evaluate the risk to public health and the environment of chemicals on a regular basis and have ready access to that information,” said Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC).
A long-standing challenge for the IRIS database is meeting the requests for information on the many chemicals that are manufactured and utilized in global commerce, and updating information on chemicals that have been previously evaluated. IRIS is losing ground to the torrent of new chemicals introduced to the marketplace. Approximately 700 new chemicals enter commerce each year. Those new chemicals are added to the over 80,000 currently reported under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as being in the market. In addition, about one half of the assessments on approximately 480 chemicals currently in the database need to be updated according to EPA staff estimates.
In recent years, IRIS’ assessments have not been the open discussions among scientists normally associated with scientific peer review. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been managing the increasingly secretive process.
“OMB’s mission does not include scientific analysis, nor does OMB appear be have the expertise to perform such work,” said Miller. “As a result of OMB’s control of IRIS evaluation procedures, four chemicals have been listed on IRIS in the last two fiscal years. EPA scientists produced 15 or so assessments in each of these years, but the assessments disappeared into an abyss of elaborate, endless reviews, mostly behind closed doors. The system is fundamentally broken and cries out for reform.”
A new review process was put in place on April 10th of this year will drastically slow down the time review process and give polluting agencies even more opportunity than to slow the IRIS process and avoid the consequences of an accurate reporting of the risks of chemicals.
“With the new process announced April 10, we may view two new entries a year as the golden era of IRIS assessments,” said Miller. “The solution offered by EPA and OMB is to take a broken system and to make it more convoluted, secretive and suspect.”
To keep IRIS relevant would require aggressive moves to speed the production and approval of entries. Congress has actually increased funding for IRIS staff in recent years in an effort to address this severe backlog (this Committee supported increased funding in Chairman Boehlert’s FY2007 Views and Estimates Report to the Committee on the Budget.