[Pharmwaste] White House blocked EPA studies, GAO reports

DeBiasi,Deborah dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Thu May 1 10:54:28 EDT 2008


White House blocked EPA studies, GAO reports
Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

(04-30) 04:00 PDT Washington - -- 

A congressional watchdog agency has found that White House officials
repeatedly intervened in the government's scientific process for
assessing the health risks of toxic chemicals, prompting Sen. Barbara
Boxer to threaten giving Congress control of the program.

The Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday that the White
House's budget office, the Pentagon and other agencies had delayed or
blocked efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to list chemicals
as carcinogens by requesting more research or more time to review the

Boxer, D-Calif., who is chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee and requested the report, called the findings scandalous. If
EPA does not speed up its assessments of toxic chemicals, she warned
that Congress might step in and start banning substances that threaten
the public health.

"If we don't see that happen, colleagues of mine are going to take
matters into their own hands," Boxer said.

A top EPA official, who was grilled at a hearing before Boxer's
committee Tuesday, responded that it was helpful to have more input from
the White House and other agencies.

"Ultimately, at the end of the day, it's EPA's decision," said James
Gulliford, EPA's assistant administrator for pesticides, prevention and
toxic substances.

GAO officials also faulted the administration for setting new rules that
keep secret any involvement by the White House or a federal agency in a
decision about the risks of a chemical.

"In the risk assessment program, you don't want anyone but the
scientists involved," John Stephenson, GAO's chief investigator for
environmental programs, told lawmakers.

The issue involves major changes the administration has made to an EPA
program called "IRIS" - the Integrated Risk Information System - which
allows the agency to determine safe levels of exposure to chemicals to
protect the public health. The program has been used to set limits on
arsenic in drinking water and benzene in the air, and foreign nations
and states like California often use the data for their regulations.

Influencing risk assessment
Since President Bush took office in 2001, the White House has sought to
take more control of a process that has long been led by EPA scientists,
the report found. The Office of Management and Budget, the Defense
Department, the Energy Department and even NASA have taken steps to
influence risk assessments that could affect those agencies or hurt U.S.
industries, the report said.

For example, the EPA started a risk assessment of naphthalene, a
chemical used in jet fuel, in 2002, and agency scientists have been
moving toward listing it as a likely human carcinogen. But many military
sites are contaminated with naphthalene, which could lead to major
cleanup costs for the Pentagon. So, White House budget officials slowed
the process, repeatedly requesting more analysis. Six years later, the
risk assessment is back at the drafting stage.

"The series of delays has limited EPA's ability to conduct its mission,"
the GAO report concluded.

The study also found irregularities in the agency's risk assessment of
formaldehyde, a colorless gas used in plywood and many other household
products, which the World Health Organization has listed as a known
human carcinogen but EPA classifies only as a probable carcinogen. 

In 2004, the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation decided to bypass the
risk analysis of its own scientists and use data by an industry-funded
group when it issued new rules for formaldehyde - even though EPA's
National Center for Environmental Assessment identified a number of
problems with the group's data. A federal appellate court struck down
the rules last year.

"It was fairly unprecedented," testified Lynn Goldman, who was assistant
EPA administrator for prevention, pesticides and toxic substances during
the Clinton administration and is now an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins

Only 4 approved
Stephenson, the GAO investigator, told lawmakers the risk assessments
had slowed to a crawl because of the prolonged inter-agency review. Out
of 32 draft risk assessments prepared by the EPA over the last two
years, only four were approved.

The program, Stephenson said, "is at serious risk of becoming obsolete."

Public health advocates warned that the results are years-long delays in
regulating harmful chemicals that scientists have linked to rising
cancer rates in some groups.

Dr. Linda Giudice, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCSF,
pointed to the growing evidence that a child exposed to chemicals in the
womb is not only at higher risk of birth defects and learning
disabilities, but also at risk of lower fertility, cancer, diabetes and
cardiovascular disease as an adult.

Giudice noted that scientists are just now learning of the effects of
some chemicals, such as bisphenol A, a compound found in baby bottles
and other products. Manufacturers of BPA insist it is safe, but it's
been linked to breast and prostate cancer, early puberty in females and
behavior disorders in laboratory animals.

"There are many chemicals where we have no scientific data," Giudice
said. "The absence of scientific data does not mean the chemical is

Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to ban children's products with
BPA, and California lawmakers are considering a similar bill. San
Francisco was the first jurisdiction in the world to outlaw BPA in kids'
products, but it repealed the ban in 2007 after a court fight with
plastics manufacturers.

Boxer said the United States should consider shifting to the European
Union's new system, known as REACH, which requires all manufacturers
seeking to sell their chemicals in Europe to register and prove the
chemical will not hurt human health or the environment. She said the
program "puts the burden on the chemical industry, where it should be,
to show that their chemicals are safe."

E-mail Zachary Coile at zcoile at sfchronicle.com. 


Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email:   dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 (NEW!)
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219
PH:         804-698-4028
FAX:      804-698-4032

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