CHEMICALS:

EPA rejects bid to sideline endocrine program

U.S. EPA has denied a trade group's petition to reconsider a new program aimed at identifying pesticides, commercial chemicals and environmental contaminants that could alter human hormones.

The agency has been working on suspected endocrine disruptors since 1996, when EPA's Office of Research and Development ranked the issue among its top six research priorities. Endocrine disruptors affect glands and hormones that regulate many bodily functions, most notably reproduction.

The Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program was first established in 1998 to identify chemicals that disrupt hormones and to use existing laws to manage the associated risk.

The law called for the program to be rolled out by Aug. 31, 2008. In July of last year, with the deadline looming, CropLife America asked EPA for further explanation about why existing data on pesticide toxicity are not sufficient, saying the agency does not have a clear plan for how to use the data it collects. The group also wanted EPA to analyze what the program would cost industry and inform the public about where the program is headed.

Specifically, the petition highlighted the concern that "unnecessary and redundant testing" could occur if the agency does not review data already submitted by pesticide registrants. The petition also wanted the agency to have alternative procedures in place before the rollout, so that small businesses are not unduly harmed by the program's requirements; a final process for any additional testing and interpretation of data; and greater efforts to minimize false results.

In its response, released this month, EPA said it has a format that ensures each chemical is tested only once. It will also review all data that are submitted, including any submissions that cite existing data, the agency said. Furthermore, EPA is developing standard evaluating procedures for screening chemicals.

The agency also said it is not required to conduct an economic analysis of the program.

CropLife said it was disappointed with EPA's decision but would continue to work with the agency to ensure that science and transparency provide the foundation for the program.

"In arriving at this formal response, we worry EPA have not taken into account the unique aspects of pesticide regulatory requirements as they intersect with the overarching, new endocrine screening process," said Jay Vroom, CropLife's president and CEO, in a statement.

Over the past 13 years, many environmentalists have watched the program with concern, as the agency has not yet screened any chemicals. EPA says it is hampered by a lack of data on the chemicals' endocrine-associated risks. "While EPA has some data on endocrine-disrupting pesticides, currently insufficient scientific data are available on most of the estimated 87,000 chemicals produced today to allow for an evaluation of endocrine associated risks," the agency says on its Web site.

Under new leadership, many hope, EPA will move quickly to get the program back on schedule. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has pledged to jump-start the program in the next couple of months. EPA did not respond to requests for comment on the petition or its proposed timeline.

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