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EPA has taken steps to improve timeliness, transparency of chemical assessments, GAO says

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Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency has made progress addressing “historical timeliness and transparency challenges” in its Integrated Risk Information System Program’s assessment process, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a recently released report.

The IRIS Program, which identifies and characterizes health hazards of chemicals and produces chemical assessments, has been criticized for its slow results and lack of transparency. GAO and the National Academy of Sciences previously offered recommendations to improve these issues.

The new report, published March 27, details three key changes EPA made to the program:

  • Use of project management principles and new software, which allows officials to manage individual tasks while speeding up literature searches to hone results to the most relevant information.
  • Providing “fit-for-purpose” assessments – tailored reports that are smaller in scope to meet program and regional office needs, rather than wide-ranging assessments that take more time to produce.
  • Implementation of a streamlined peer-review process that is less complex than a usual review by a Scientific Advisory Board or National Academy of Sciences panel.

To address transparency concerns, the program is using a systematic review that demonstrates it considered all available literature in forming conclusions and deriving toxicity values.

The IRIS Program also has increased the frequency, structure and content of its communications with EPA program and regional offices regarding its overall priorities and individual assessments.


In October 2018, EPA offices were asked to limit their chemical requests to a top three or four, then IRIS assessments were halted from being released so the majority of the program’s staff could support implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which was amended in 2016 by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.

J. Alfredo Gomez, director of natural resources and environment at GAO, presented the report’s findings to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Investigations and Oversight and Environment subcommittees.

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