EDF Health

EPA IRIS program receives high marks from the National Academies

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist and Ryan O’Connell is a High Meadows Fellow with the Health Program.

Last week the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, concluding that the program has made strong progress in implementing NAS’ earlier recommendations. As noted by the chair of the NAS committee that led the review, “The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive.”

As I’ve blogged about before, IRIS is a non-regulatory program that provides critical chemical reviews and scientific expertise that help ensure the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land where we live, work, and play are safe. Offices across EPA and elsewhere in the federal government rely on IRIS, as do states, local governments, and affected communities (see here and here).

“The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive.”

The new NAS report comes four years after its 2014 review, which noted the substantial progress made by IRIS in addressing recommendations from a more critical 2011 review of a draft IRIS assessment of formaldehyde. It is worth noting that half of the committee members involved in the new IRIS review served on the committee that authored the 2011 review.   Read More »

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The Big Squeeze: Dangers for public health lurk in recent EPA re-org efforts

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Over the past several months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made or proposed a number of distressing shifts in offices or staff that support critical chemicals-related activities and scientific research. The programs affected include the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, the Safer Choice program, and the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER). Not coincidentally, each of these programs has been in the crosshairs of certain segments of industry and its allies in Congress and the Administration.

This blog post briefly reviews the proposed or implemented shifts and their implications.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence / Tagged | Comments are closed

EDF lends strong support to EPA’s IRIS Program in comments at National Academies workshop

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Last week the National Academies held a public workshop as part of its review of changes that have been made, or that are planned, by the U.S. EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program. The last National Academies review, published in 2014, pointed to significant advancements the program had already achieved since its prior 2011 report:

Overall, the committee finds that substantial improvements in the IRIS process have been made, and it is clear that EPA has embraced and is acting on the recommendations in the NRC formaldehyde report. The NRC formaldehyde committee recognized that its suggested changes would take several years and an extensive effort by EPA staff to implement. Substantial progress, however, has been made in a short time, and the present committee’s recommendations should be seen as building on the progress that EPA has already made.

As I’ve blogged before, the EPA IRIS program is a non-regulatory program that provides critical information and scientific expertise that helps ensure that the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land where we live, work, and play are safe. For example, the IRIS program has a central role to play in helping address widespread contamination of drinking water with perfluorinated chemicals.

The American public depends on the IRIS program and it is imperative that the program remain intact, housed apart from regulatory parts of the agency, and adequately resourced.

In the comments I provided on behalf of EDF at the meeting, I emphasized that the IRIS program is:

  • critical to protecting public health;
  • making significant progress toward advancing systematic review in chemicals assessment, adopting best practices from the clinical sciences in line with earlier National Academies recommendations;
  • approaching the integration of mechanistic information in chemical assessment in a scientifically sound manner;
  • making important investments in specialized software tools designed to make the development and updating of chemical assessments more efficient; and
  • appropriately and necessarily situated within the science arm of EPA where it is best positioned to conduct strong, independent science.

The IRIS program has unquestionably been responsive to earlier recommendations of the National Academies and is arguably yet again surpassing expectations. The American public depends on the IRIS program and it is imperative that the program remain intact, housed apart from regulatory parts of the agency, and adequately resourced.

A final report by the Committee is expected this spring.

Posted in EPA, Health Science, Public Health / Tagged | Comments are closed

The growing crisis over PFCs: A clear example of the need for EPA’s IRIS Program

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

As I blogged about earlier, the FY2018 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies bill posted in November by the Senate Appropriations committee majority would eliminate EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program. Located within the research arm of EPA, this non-regulatory program produces top-tier chemical hazard assessments used not only by multiple regulatory offices within EPA, but also by other federal agencies, regions, and states. IRIS chemical assessments, and the scientists that develop them, are relied on to support a broad range of core environmental decisions from setting clean-up levels at contaminated sites to evaluating health risks of chemicals in commerce and setting standards to ensure clean air and drinking water.

The widespread contamination of drinking water with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)—chemicals that stick around in the environment for years and years—is a timely example of just how critical scientists within IRIS and related EPA research programs are. Across the country, governments are grappling with how to manage contamination from well-known toxic PFCs, like PFOA and PFOS, while simultaneously trying to understand potential health risks from a plethora of other less well-studied PFCs like GenX.

So what’s the job of EPA IRIS in a situation like this? Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Science / Tagged | Comments are closed

Senate funding proposal to eliminate EPA’s IRIS program is a public health debacle

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Among other things, IRIS chemical reviews are used to inform clean-up decisions at Superfund and other contaminated sites, set standards to ensure clean drinking water, assess health risks from toxic air emissions, and evaluate health risks of chemicals in commerce. These are all legally mandated activities stipulated under different laws to ensure the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the lands where we work, live, and play are safe.

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations majority posted their version of the FY2018 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill online (see bill here and accompanying explanatory statement here; see the minority’s summary response here). The legislation lays out spending measures for a number of agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  In releasing the bill yesterday, the majority has bypassed the amendment and markup process.

Among other cuts, the bill eliminates the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program. At best a small fraction of its responsibilities – and only one-third of its funding – would be re-allocated to the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP).

If realized, this short-sighted move would be a debacle in terms of protecting public health from harmful chemical exposures.

[A short fact sheet on IRIS and implications of eliminating it is available here.]

Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence / Comments are closed

EPA’s ban on high-risk uses of trichloroethylene needs to get over the finish line

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Trichloroethylene, or TCE for short, is a very toxic chemical. No doubt about it. Among other health effects, TCE is known to cause cancer and interfere with development.  It is also toxic to the immune system and kidneys. While the vast majority of TCE in the U.S. is used to make other chemicals (i.e., is used as a chemical intermediate), approximately 15% of TCE has other commercial and consumer purposes, including as a metal degreaser and spot cleaning agent.

Over the past several years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a hard look at exposures and potential health risks—including to workers, consumers, and bystanders—resulting from certain commercial and consumer uses of TCE. It found clearly excessive risks from these uses, which prompted the agency to take steps to reduce these exposures.

In December 2016, using its authority under section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA proposed a rule to ban the use of TCE as an aerosol degreaser and as a spot cleaning agent in commercial dry cleaning facilities—marking the first time in nearly 3 decades it has tried to restrict a chemical under TSCA. A second proposed rule to ban the use of TCE as a vapor degreaser followed a month later in January 2017 and is undergoing public comment.

The public comment period on the first TCE proposed rule closed recently. EDF filed extensive comments urging the agency to finalize the rule as soon as possible.

Highlights of our comments are below:   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Health Science, Regulation, TSCA Reform / Tagged , | Comments are closed