National Academy Blisters EPA Chemical Risk Assessments   

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For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Contact:  Kirsten Stade


National Academy Blisters EPA Chemical Risk Assessments

EPA Approach Not “Comprehensive, Workable, Objective, and Transparent”

Washington, DC — In a new report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a failing grade for the manner in which it evaluates the health risks of chemical exposures. The report calls into question the quality of vital EPA scientific work and argues for an overhaul of the management of agency chemical assessments, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The new report, entitled “The Use of Systematic Review in EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act Risk Evaluations,” examines how well EPA is implementing a 2016 statutory mandate to assess the risk of chemicals already in the marketplace.  It concluded the process EPA employed to develop risk assessments suffers from “inadequate documentation, itself an indication of failing at being comprehensive, workable, objective, and transparent.”  Criticisms include –

  • EPA lacks “a clear, documented approach to evidence synthesis and to integration,” which means “the risk evaluation process becomes unworkable because staff have to decide on approaches for these critical steps for each new evaluation rather than relying on a protocol or guidance”;
  • EPA’s approach is “lacking objectivity at each step, from not using a defined approach to documenting how the problem formulation and protocol are developed”; and
  • The “transparency of the entire risk evaluation process is compromised across all of its elements.”

“Five years ago, Congress charged EPA with one of its most formidable regulatory challenges, but it appears that the agency is not up to this challenge,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, noting that EPA is now issuing the first high-priority assessments with a score more to follow.  “Protecting public health requires that EPA acts urgently to get its act together.”

The report’s principal recommendations are that EPA “comprehensively reevaluate its approach to systematic review methods,” develop a documented, consistent protocol, and dramatically improve its transparency.

“By operating behind closed doors, EPA is choking on chemical fumes,” added Whitehouse, pointing to the report’s call for tapping “external expertise” in integrating “new tools and approaches for exposure, environmental health, and other new areas of application of systematic review.”  “This report suggests that EPA’s new leadership must engineer a total makeover while moving at full speed to meet the regulatory deadlines for accurate, reliable, and reproducible chemical risk assessments.”


Read the National Academy report 

Read EPA’s response to the report

Look at gaping holes in EPA’s plan for PFAS control

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