ACC Has IRIS on its Hit List

by Matt Shudtz

October 04, 2011

A few weeks ago, Rena Steinzor used this space to highlight some questionable activity happening at EPA’s IRIS office and wonder, “ Is IRIS Next on the Hit List?” The good news last week was that EPA released a number of documents, including the controversial and long-awaited assessment of TCE, giving some reassurance that IRIS staff are still plugging away at their important work (see Jennifer Sass and Daniel Rosenberg over at Switchboard for more on the TCE news).

A new report from Inside EPA,  available here, sheds more light on the state of IRIS, by which we now see that the chemical industry’s lobbying arm, the American Chemistry Council, has its cross-hairs trained directly on the IRIS program.

Maria Hegstad reports that ACC recently met with Cass Sunstein, Administrator of OIRA, and David Lane, assistant to President Obama and counselor to the President’s Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, to argue for elimination of several government programs designed to assess the risks posed by toxic chemicals. The programs that ACC has targeted include EPA’s IRIS program, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) housed at NIH, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and HHS’s Report on Carcinogens (ROC) program.

Each of these programs provides a unique perspective on chemical risks and a unique service to the federal government. IRIS is a central hub for hazard identification and dose-response determinations that EPA’s air and water toxics programs use to set regulations. NTP’s toxicological reviews are less constrained by specific regulatory agendas, enabling the program, for example, to conduct a review of the literature on toxicological issues related to the 2010 BP Gulf Oil Spill so that researchers can better coordinate their efforts to understand the complex problems presented by such a massive spill. ATSDR creates toxicological profiles designed to aid in Superfund cleanups, as required by federal law. HHS’s Report on Carcinogens is also mandated by Congress. It is not designed to be a highly technical document like an IRIS or ATSDR profile, but rather a biennial overview of widely used chemicals that are known or suspected carcinogens and their existing regulations, provided to Congress to help shape federal policy.

In its meeting with top White House officials and follow-up letter, ACC has brought forth the canard that these four programs are somehow duplicative. It stands to reason that if that were the case, then some previous administration that didn’t have a stated commitment to protecting the public from toxics would have been open to eliminating one of the programs. There’s been plenty of time: NTP was created in 1978; Congress asked for the first ROC the same year; in 1980, Congress mandated creation of ATSDR; and EPA consolidated its risk assessment programs at IRIS in 1985. 

We’ve been through recessions and fierce budget battles since then and all four programs have withstood the tests of time because they serve important functions. But ACC is lobbying hard to capitalize on the anti-regulatory zeal that’s swept into DC on the backs of the Tea Party Republicans. They know that if they can stanch the flow of science, they can cut off regulations at their roots, eliminating the air and water protections that have improved Americans’ quality of life over the last 40 years.

The White House is not ACC’s only audience in this campaign. They’ve also pulled the right levers over at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will be holding a hearing Thursday titled “Chemical Risk Assessment: What Works for Jobs and the Economy?” We’ll be watching.

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Also from Matt Shudtz

Matthew Shudtz, J.D., is the Executive Director of the Center for Progressive Reform. He joined CPR in 2006 as policy analyst, after graduating law school with a certificate in environmental law.

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