[Pharmwaste] NEWS: EPA a failure on chemicals

Sue Dayton 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 
under consideration. 

"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 
assessment programs." 

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 
respiratory problems. 

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 
Washington, D.C. 

"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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