(Washington, DC) – Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced reforms to the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) that are designed to speed new chemical risk entries. During the Bush Administration, the IRIS process became bogged down in endless reviews and rewrites managed from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). IRIS was the subject of two hearings by the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) alsointroduced legislation in the last Congress that was designed to put EPA back in charge of the IRIS process.
“I commend EPA Administrator Jackson on this step,”said Miller in reaction to the EPA announcement. “This is a distinct improvement over the Bush Administration’s policy, but that is far too low a bar.”
IRIS is a public database that was 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.
The process established at the end of the Bush Administration involved thirteen discrete steps including multiple opportunities for interested parties to weigh-in to try to block or delay a new listing, usually in secret. This "paralysis by analysis" approach to IRIS listings, crippled the system to the point where only 2 or 3 new listings were being posted each year—this while approximately 700 new chemicals come into the marketplace each year. Neither the public nor public health officials were well served by that system.
“The Bush Administration’s policy was fundamentally illegitimate and should be scrapped,” said Miller. “The assessment of the health effects of environmental exposures should be entirely scientific, not at all political. Scientific peer review is useful, political review is not. The new process requires that any interagency discussion be solely about the science, and no agency can take a chemical assessment off the table. Most important, the entire process is in the open, not behind closed doors.”
Subcommittee Chairman Miller has called a hearing for June 11, 2009 to review the EPA reforms.
“I want to know how many new listings the EPA expects to post each year, how many staff will be assigned to the process, and whether OMB will still be involved if the only issue is a scientific determination,” said Miller. “I also want to know that polluters won’t be able to block scientific risk assessment listings.”
The Subcommittee held hearings on May 21, 2008 and June 12, 2008 on the problems with IRIS as it was managed under the Bush Administration. On September 29, 2008, Mr. Miller introduced H.R. 7234 the Integrated Risk Information System Authorization Act to put EPA back in charge of the IRIS process. That bill required a minimum of 15 new assessments and 5 updated assessments each year. It also banned agencies with a perceived conflict of interest from participating in the development or review of assessments and barred the White House from reviewing assessments.
For more information on the EPA IRIS, please visit the Committee’s website.