Senate eliminates EPA chemical risk assessment program

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) embattled Integrated Risk Information System (Iris) program, through which the agency identifies and characterises the health hazards of chemicals in the environment, will be eliminated under a spending bill for 2018 released by the Republican-led Senate on 20 November. If enacted, the legislation also would reduce the budget of the EPA’s chemical safety and sustainability programme by $15.4 million (£11.58 million). An explanatory statement accompanying the bill says resources would be transferred within the EPA from Iris to help implement the updated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which gives more authority to the agency to regulate new and existing chemicals in the US. The best-case scenario is that a small fraction of the Iris programme’s responsibilities – and only one-third of its funding – would be reallocated to the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, according to organisations like the Environmental Defence Fund. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in the Senate expressed concern that this legislative proposal would impose the Iris workload onto the recently-reformed TSCA program, which was not designed to accommodate the breadth of its responsibilities. They also say that the bill would allow the EPA to implement an additional $68 million in programme cuts with no restrictions, and that the measure includes funding to enable the Trump administration to cut a full quarter of EPA’s current staff of scientists and public health experts. Any 2018 appropriations bill has to pass both chambers of Congress before it can be forwarded to the White House action, and there is recent movement on the House side to do away with the Iris program. The step to disband Iris follows tough talk in September by Republicans who sit on the House of Representatives’ science, space and technology (HSST) committee. During a hearing, they questioned whether the Iris programme should exist at all, arguing that it is not based on sound science and that it provides duplicative as well as conflicting chemical safety information. In October, Republican leaders on the HSST panel wrote to the head of the EPA and expressed concern about the scientific merit of past Iris assessments, including those on trichloroethylene and chloroprene. They suggested that these two cases represent just two of the more ‘well-document failures’ of the Iris programme to take into account additional scientific information, and request a briefing on the matter from EPA staff.

Chemistry World, 24 November 2017 ; https://www.chemistryworld.com