Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled a new process for assessing the health risks of new chemicals that allows chemical manufacturers and other industries to play key roles. As a result, it will be much easier to inject corporate influence into public health determinations that should be purely scientific, according Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The overhaul of the EPA “Integrated Risk Information System” became effective on April 10, 2008, the day it was announced. EPA said the changes “created several important opportunities” for affected interests to weigh in “at key points throughout the nomination and assessment” of new environmental contaminants. One hallmark of the changes is pushing government research to the side in favor of outside research which is largely industry-funded. As a consequence –
- Affected corporations will be intimately involved in each step of EPA’s risk assessment and will be able to know what staff are assigned to which work, making the agency “research plan” vulnerable to political manipulation through the appropriations process;
- The Defense and Energy Departments will have a formal role on how pollutants, such as the chemical perchlorate, are evaluated. In addition, these agencies could declare a particular chemical to be “mission critical” that would allow them to control how “data gaps” are to be filled. All intra-and inter-agency communications on risk assessments are deemed “deliberative” and thus confidential;
- The White House Office of Management and Budget would control both the substance and timing of final decisions on chemical risk assessments.
“Under this system, every chemical risk assessment is a special interest scrum,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former EPA scientists and attorney. “Had this process been in place, the tobacco industry would have stopped EPA from declaring secondhand smoke a lung cancer risk.”
These chemical risk assessments are used to develop toxic clean-up criteria, safe drinking water standards, occupational exposure levels and other essential public health protections. In its press announcement, EPA Assistant Administrator George Gray said the changes were intended to make the assessments “more predictable, streamlined, and transparent.”
“In the name of transparency, EPA concocted this convoluted system in secret,” Bennett added, noting Gray’s previous work in an industry-financed institute on this topic. “What a coincidence that this process seems tailor-made to drum up a lot of business for the work Mr. Gray did in the private sector.”
PEER points to this revision as one of what will be many more late-in-the-Bush-administration attempts to skew rules, interpretations and policies that could not be changed through normal, publicly-reviewed channels. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee has already vowed to hold oversight hearings on this topic.