More Anti-EPA Shenanigans? Is IRIS Next on the Hit List? We'll Be Watching

by Rena Steinzor

September 08, 2011

From what we hear, EPA is not a happy place these days, and we don’t wonder why. Never did a hard-pressed staff deserve so much guff, less. Politico reported that the White House is treating Lisa Jackson with kid gloves, hoping against hope that she won’t up and quit on them over the outrageous White House trashing of the efforts to update an outmoded, unhealthy, and legally indefensible 1997 ozone standard. Good thinking for a change. With the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sending e-mails to 1.3 million members and online activists declaring that the White House “threw you overboard,” it’s way past time for the President, his Chief of Staff, and regulatory czar Cass Sunstein to remember they are Democrats, not soldiers in the Boehner army.

Obviously, no one knows what Jackson will do and the decision is both a personal and a difficult one. Ozone was extraordinarily offensive, and good arguments can be made that resignation is her best alternative. On the other hand, she has more work to do and only a hard kick in the rear will force the White House to let her do it. The least we can do is watch EPA like hawks, standing ready, willing, and able to call out industry interference at the earliest possible stage.  

In that regard, we smell a rat chewing on the power cords that support EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), the internationally renowned database of toxicological profiles that garners 2,000 hits a day (for a scientific database like this, that’s a lot). The American Chemistry Council has IRIS in the cross hairs, recently testifying before Congress that it should have all its work checked by the National Academies of Science. Then, on August 31, EPA published a notice that it would take public comment on its draft assessment of 1,4-dioxane, a Hazardous Air Pollutant under the Clean Air Act because it is a probable human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).   The chemical is used to stabilize trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene, especially in a military context. The draft IRIS profile would set an inhalation value—the amount that can be breathed in without adverse health effects--for the chemical because new studies have been done since IRIS first posted a profile in 1988. According to the EPA Toxics Release Inventory, 47 percent of releases of the chemical are in air.

But as Inside EPA has just reported, a visit to the website devoted to the peer review brings this perplexing comment: “The draft IRIS assessment 1,4-dioxane (inhalation) for public comment and external peer review announced in the Federal Register on August 31, 2011 is temporarily unavailable.” 

The problem with what happened on ozone is that it only incites EPA’s critics to flood the White House with further demands. If Jackson does decide to stay, she will need to decide which issues she will go to the mat over, and which she will let go. We hope her list is long, and we’ll keep working to add items to it.

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Also from Rena Steinzor

Rena Steinzor is a Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and a past president of the Center for Progressive Reform. She is the author of Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.

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