FDA scientists have had a chance to develop an assessment of the risks of BPA in food contact applications using a fuller body of low-dose studies and concluded last week that there’s some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children (for a helpful analysis of the context of FDA’s decision, see Sarah Vogel’s post at The Pump Handle). Now, it’s time to look at what EPA is doing with respect to the ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemical.
In late September, Lisa Jackson announced that EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics would develop “action plans” for four chemicals or groups of chemicals, outlining potential future regulatory actions aimed at protecting the public and the environment from unreasonable risk. BPA was one of the candidates for an action plan, but when EPA released its four plans on December 30, BPA’s was not among them. EPA’s reason for delaying the BPA action plan was that it was waiting on FDA’s newest analysis and the results of $30 million worth of new studies being conducted under various grants from NIEHS.
But there might be more to it. EPA has sent each of its action plans to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review. And on December 22, just before EPA was about to release its first four chemical action plans, activists from American Chemistry Council and representatives of a major BPA producer met with officials at OIRA to plead the case for BPA’s safety. The industry activists came to the meeting armed with a biased list (pdf) of citations to studies on BPA and a copy of a letter (pdf) from ACC President Cal Dooley to EPA’s Stephen Owens that suggests EPA should give industry a sneak peek at any upcoming chemical action plans. Dooley doesn’t even bother to frame the suggestion in terms of ensuring that EPA has the best available science – he simply states that the chemical industry doesn’t think (a) that EPA is capable of drafting an intelligible action plan on its own, and (b) that the public is smart enough to understand a summary of the potential risks of BPA.
The problem is, EPA really didn’t need to send its chemical action plans to OIRA for review. OIRA is empowered to screen federal agencies’ regulatory actions under Executive Order 12866, which requires agencies to send major regulatory actions to the White House for review. Bush expanded the requirement in 2007 with Executive Order 13442, which required agencies to send less influential items, like guidance documents, for review. Obama rescinded EO 13442 almost immediately after taking office, suggesting that the new president had a little more trust in the agencies to do their jobs without micro-management by OIRA.
But either OIRA or the agencies haven’t let the change sink in. The chemical action plans simply recite the hazards and risks posed by certain chemicals and outline the basic contours of EPA’s plans for potential future regulation. Nothing is set in stone. Really, these documents are just the kind of internal memoranda that would never have seen the light of day in a less transparent administration. But now, either by EPA’s timidity or OIRA’s refusal to relinquish its micro-management role from EO 13442, the document is going through OIRA, where it’s being attacked by industry advocates.