The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Meghan Thornton, 202-331-6943

EPA Announces Reforms to Chemical Database That Make Process More Transparent

Science Group Cautions That Other Federal Agencies Could Still Corrupt Process


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced significant changes to the way the government assesses toxic chemicals, greatly increasing transparency, accountability and efficiency to better protect the public. However, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) warns that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) may still wield the authority to interfere in the agency's scientific analysis.

"These changes put the EPA back in the driver's seat when it comes to providing the public with information about harmful chemicals," said Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program. "But until we know how the White House will coordinate input from other government agencies, we can't say there's a smooth road ahead."

A 2008 Government Accountability Office investigation of the chemical assessment system (known as the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS) under the Bush administration found that redundant and unnecessary review by other federal agencies "limits the credibility of IRIS assessments." This obstruction created an extensive backlog of chemicals in the EPA's queue.

The new changes announced today:

-- state that the EPA is solely responsible for the final content of each chemical assessment;

-- streamline the review process to more quickly provide information to the public about chemical risks; and

-- make public all comments by other agencies on each scientific assessment to allow outside parties to better understand how the the government arrived at each assessment.

During the Bush administration, OMB officials often interfered in EPA scientific assessments, including those related to the IRIS database. The Obama administration has not yet defined the role OMB will play in the regulatory process, but is expected to do so soon.

"The new process should stop other federal agencies from undermining the EPA's scientific analysis behind closed doors," said Tim Donaghy, an analyst with the UCS Scientific Integrity Program. "The EPA has gone as far as it can. Now it's time for the White House to establish a regulatory review process that includes strong protections for science."

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.