CPR White Paper Identifies Hundreds of Toxic Chemicals Insufficiently Studied by EPA

by Lena Pons

November 09, 2010

A new CPR white paper released today evaluates EPA’s performance in improving its database of human health information on toxic substances. The Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) contains “profiles” with bottom-line health effects information for 540 substances; federal regulators, as well as state and local governments and regulated industry itself, rely on the assessments to make decisions in protecting the public from harm.

In Corrective Lenses for IRIS: Additional Reforms to Improve EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (press release), CPR found that due to procedural changes and attacks from regulated industry and other federal agencies, the information in IRIS hasn’t kept pace with the needs of EPA’s program offices that regulate toxic substances in the air, water and land. "We found 255 chemicals that Congress or EPA have listed as regulatory targets that are waiting for IRIS profiles." Among the 255 are:

  • Thirty-two hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) regulated under the Clean Air Act are not listed in IRIS at all, and 77 are listed but lack inhalation values, hampering the EPA's ability to conduct residual risk assessments to provide an ample margin of safety.
  • Three of 71 contaminants regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act are not listed, and neither are 64 of the 156 substances nominated to the Contaminate Candidate List, slowing EPA's ability to develop enforceable standards for drinking water contamination.
  • Eighty-seven of the 275 substances frequently found in Superfund sites and identified by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry as "high profile" have not been assessed.

EPA completed nine IRIS assessments in 2009 and is on track to complete nine in 2010, an improvement from the two-per-year pace during the Bush Administration. But at the new rate, it would still take approximately 55 years to complete all of the assessments that EPA program offices need to complete statutory responsibilities.

Our report, by CPR Member Scholars Rena Steinzor and Wendy Wagner, Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz and myself,  recommends procedural reforms to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete IRIS profiles. We recommend that EPA get rid of unnecessary steps that contribute the most to delay of IRIS assessments – in particular interagency review coordinated by the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. This step provides other federal agencies, which are often potentially subject to eventual regulation, a privileged opportunity to influence and delay EPA’s process for completing public health profiles. EPA can and must work to depoliticize and speed the assessment process.

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