EDF Health

Overwhelming local support for EPA Chemical Assessment Program: Communities impacted by PFC contamination urge Congress to maintain critical program

Samantha Lovell is a Project Specialist.

Today, a letter signed by more than 100 people was submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging Congress to protect the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program. The signatories come from dozens of communities across the country impacted by PFC contamination in drinking water. EPA’s IRIS program develops critical assessments of chemicals, like PFCs, that support a wide variety of decision-making from clean-up levels at contaminated sites to setting standards that ensure clean drinking water.

As we have blogged about previously, IRIS is a non-regulatory program within EPA’s science arm that produces top-tier chemical hazard assessments used across EPA program and regional offices, other federal agencies, and state and local governments to protect public health. IRIS scientists are also called on during emergency and other rapid response situations, when technical expertise is paramount and time is of the essence.

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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.

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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 »

Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA / Tagged | Comments are closed

We are what we eat: New paper outlines how the regulatory gaps in the US threaten our health

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

In a new paper published in PLoS Biology today, Maricel Maffini, Tom Neltner and I detail the regulatory gaps in how the US manages chemicals in food. We explore how failures in our current regulatory system put the public’s health at risk as exemplified in the case of perchlorate, a chemical allowed in food and a well-known endocrine disrupting compound. Perchlorate’s ability to disrupt normal functioning of the thyroid means that even low levels of exposure, especially in those with inadequate iodine intake, can adversely impact the developing brains of infants and children. It is not a chemical that should be in the food of pregnant women, infants and children. And yet it is, and the levels children consume have increased in recent years.

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Good news and bad news for children: FDA’s 2014 to 2016 food testing for lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Consultant

In Environmental Defense Fund’s June 2017 “Lead in food: A hidden health threat” report, we evaluated the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) publicly available data for 2003 to 2013 from its Total Diet Study (TDS). Since the 1970s, the TDS has tracked metals, pesticides, and nutrients in food. We found that 20% of baby food samples had detectable levels of lead compared to 14% for other foods. We also identified eight food types where more than 40% of samples had detectable lead. Finally, based on an analysis from EPA, we estimated that more than 1 million young children exceeded FDA’s limit for lead and that eliminating lead from food would save society an estimated $27 billion annually.

In November 2017, FDA publicly released TDS data for 2014 and 2015. And this December, the agency provided us with TDS data for 2016 in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. We evaluated the combined information[1] and have an update that is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the overall trends for detectable rates of lead in baby food and other food, especially in 2016, appear to be on the decline. There is a similar downward trend in apple and grape juice, especially the ones marketed as baby food. Unfortunately, there appeared to be stubbornly high rates of detectable lead in teething biscuits, arrowroot cookies, and baby food carrots and sweet potatoes.

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Children’s lead exposure: Relative contributions of various sources

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Dr. Ananya Roy is Health Scientist

Last week, we noted in our blog that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dropped the statement that paint, dust and soil are the most common sources of lead in its “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” booklet. Property owners provide this booklet to prospective homebuyers and tenants in housing built before 1978. The change implicitly recognizes that there is no safe level of lead in the children’s blood, and we must reduce all sources of lead exposure. It also acknowledges that the relative contribution of air, water, food, soil, dust, and paint to children’s blood lead levels is complicated. Exposure varies significantly based on age of the home, the child’s race and age, the family’s income-level, and region of the country. Any simplification obscures these important differences.

EPA’s scientists made this clear in a model published earlier this year that pulled together the available data, divided children into three age categories, and assigned children in each category into ten groups based on their overall lead exposure. For each group, they estimated the relative contribution of air, water, food, and soil/dust (from paint). Not surprisingly, children living in older homes with lead-based paint hazards by far have the most exposure to lead. For 1 to 6 year olds in the top 90-100 percentile, more than 70% of the lead in their blood is from soil and dust. The contribution from food is 20% and drinking water is 10%. For infants, soil and dust contributes to 50% of the lead in blood, while 40% is from water and 10% from food.

Since there is no known safe level of lead in blood, we must do even more to reduce children's exposure to lead-contaminated soil and dust.

However, to prioritize action at a national level, it is important to understand how different sources contribute to lead exposure in the average child as well as the most-exposed child. We used the underlying EPA data to calculate the average relative source contribution of different sources to blood lead levels for infants from birth to six months old, for toddlers 1 to 2 years old, and young children from 1 to 6 years old. The results indicate that infants have a much higher source contribution of lead from water in comparison to older children (Figure 1). For the average child 1 to 6 years old, food is the largest source of lead exposure, with 50%, followed by soil/dust then water.

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