U.S. EPA's oversight of new chemicals fails to meet the agency's mandate to protect human health and the environment, the agency's inspector general said in a report released yesterday.
"EPA's assurance that new chemicals or organisms introduced into commerce do not pose unreasonable risks to workers, consumers, or the environment is not supported by data or actual testing," the report concludes.
To improve chemical oversight, the report says, EPA must coordinate the work of the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
EPA also needs to expand its risk assessment process to take into account low-level and cumulative chemical exposures and develop a strategy for dealing with confidentiality claims from industry. Finally, EPA needs an enforcement plan that includes training, national enforcement strategies and a list of manufacturers to target, the report says.
A manufacturer that wants to introduce a new chemical into the market must submit a "pre-manufacture notice" to EPA, which then reviews the application to predict toxicity of that substance based on existing data.
But EPA is limited by the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which requires the government to prove a chemical poses a health threat before it can act. Regulators also need proof before they can require companies to provide more information about a chemical.
About 50 percent of company submissions for new chemicals contain no test data, EPA told the inspector general, and 85 percent lack toxicity data. Thus, the report says, the agency is forced to rely on risk assessment models based on comparisons with structurally similar chemicals.
Oversight of existing risk is also a low priority for the agency, and its budget reflects that, the report found. EPA is also hampered by industry's excessive use of confidentiality claims, which limit public access to health and safety data. The report says EPA procedures for handling confidentiality claims are "weighted toward the protection of industry information rather than public access."
In a written response, Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe said EPA agreed with the report's conclusions and recommendations, and that the two offices have begun working together to discuss TSCA implementation, including crafting a document outlining collaboration and responsibilities.
EPA has also agreed to conduct cumulative risk assessments for some chemicals. The agency has already begun looking at eight phthalates, Perciasepe said. Also, he said, the agency has begun strengthening public access to chemical information.
Perciasepe also highlighted weaknesses in TSCA that hamstring the agency in its efforts to collect more testing data, calling on Congress to pass strong legislation that would give EPA tools to implement the IG's recommendations.
Click here to read the report.