[Pharmwaste] NEWS: EPA a failure on chemicals
sdayton at swcp.com
Wed Feb 4 09:23:50 EST 2009
EPA a failure on chemicals, audit finds
Assessment of toxic risks inadequate, says new chief
By Meg Kissinger of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Jan. 24, 2009
The Environmental Protection Agency's ability to assess toxic chemicals
is as broken as the nation's financial markets and needs a total
overhaul, a congressional audit has found.
The Government Accountability Office has released a report saying the
EPA lacks even basic information to say whether chemicals pose
substantial health risks to the public. It says actions are needed to
streamline and increase the transparency of the EPA's registry of
chemicals. And it calls for measures to enhance the agency's ability to
obtain health and safety information from the chemical industry.
Lisa Jackson, the EPA's new administrator, promised to take the report
"It is clear that we are not doing an adequate job of assessing and
managing the risks of chemicals in consumer products, the workplace and
the environment," Jackson said in a prepared statement Friday. "It is
now time to revise and strengthen EPA's chemicals management and risk
The Journal Sentinel has chronicled the failure of the EPA to disclose
information about toxic chemicals in its series, "Chemical Fallout,"
which began in 2007. Last month, the newspaper reported that the agency
routinely allows companies to keep new information about their chemicals
secret, including compounds that have been shown to cause cancer and
Earlier in 2008, the Journal Sentinel revealed that the EPA's Voluntary
Children's Chemical Evaluation Program, which relies on companies to
provide information about the dangers of the chemicals they produce, is
all but dead. And it disclosed that the agency's program to screen
chemicals that damage the endocrine system had failed to screen a single
chemical more than 10 years after the program was launched.
Health and environmental advocates pounced on the GAO's findings as
proof that the EPA has been shirking its responsibilities for years.
"This just shows that the EPA is not any better able to protect
Americans from risky chemicals than FEMA was to save New Orleans or the
SEC was to cope with the financial collapse," said John Peterson Myers,
a scientist and author who has been writing about chemical risks to
human health for more than three decades.
For the EPA to be compared to the collapsed financial markets
dramatically underscores the need for a complete overhaul of the
regulation of toxic chemicals, said Richard Wiles, executive director of
Environmental Working Group, a health watchdog organization based in
"The EPA joins the hall of shame of failed government programs," Wiles said.
The EPA is at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement and
needs a broad-based transformation, the auditors found.
"The EPA lacks adequate scientific information on the toxicity of many
chemicals that may be found in the environment - as well as on tens of
thousands of chemicals used commercially in the United States," the GAO
report said. "EPA's inadequate progress in assessing toxic chemicals
significantly limits the agency's ability to fulfill its mission of
protecting human health and the environment."
The EPA's ability to protect public health and the environment depends
on credible and timely assessments of the risks posed by toxic
chemicals, the GAO found. Its Integrated Risk Information System, which
contains assessments of more than 500 toxic chemicals, "is at serious
risk of becoming obsolete because the EPA has been unable to keep its
existing assessments current or to complete assessments of important
chemicals of concern."
The EPA urgently needs to streamline and increase the transparency of
this assessment process, the report says.
"Overall, the EPA has finished only nine assessments in the past three
years," the report found. "At the end of 2007, most of the 70 ongoing
assessments had been under way for more than five years."
The EPA needs additional authority to that provided in the Toxic
Substances Control Act to obtain health and safety information from the
chemical industry, the GAO auditors found.
"They need to shift more of the burden to chemical companies to
demonstrate the safety of their products," the report found.
Strengthening the EPA is one of the GAO's three most urgent priorities
for the Obama administration. The GAO also called for overhauling the
nation's financial regulatory system, whose inattention helped trigger
the global financial crisis, and improving the Food and Drug
Administration's ability to protect the public from unsafe or
ineffective drugs and other medical products.
The list is updated every two years and released at the start of each
new Congress to help in setting oversight agendas. Recent Congresses and
administrations have been particularly alert to GAO's High-Risk List and
have used its findings to help tailor agency-specific solutions as well
as broader initiatives across government.
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