Thursday, November 11, 2010

EPA hazardous chem program: 55-year backlog of work

Posted By on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 12:33 PM

It's difficult for even 55 year olds to imagine a half-decade long backlog of work, I'm sure. But, as someone who's dealt with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on more than one occasion, I have to tell you I'm not surprised by the revelation that they're this far behind.

For one thing, several EPA employees have told me, off the record, that during the W. Bush administration, their work collected dust. Still, even now, answers to simple questions are guaranteed to take days, if not weeks, to get answered. And, if you actually get through to a human, plan on talking to a long list of people, since most of the time you'll first speak to Mr. or Ms. "It's Not My Department."

That's not to say everyone working for the EPA is lax — that's definitely not true; there are certainly very dedicated and hard-working employees, too. I'm just saying, after my experiences with the agency, I'm not surprised by this news. And, the IRIS database? Meh. It could be a lot better, but I wouldn't put it on top of the agency's priority list.

From the Center for Public Integrity:

Eighteen months after the Environmental Protection Agency announced reforms to its controversial process for evaluating health hazards posed by dangerous chemicals, significant problems continue to hamper the program and leave the public at risk, according to a new report by a nonprofit research group.

The agency has fallen years behind in meeting its statutory requirements to profile at least 255 chemicals and assess their potential links to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. That delay has effectively halted numerous regulatory actions that would protect the public, according to the report by the Center for Progressive Reform, a public health and environmental protection group. “[The Obama administration has] been so busy reacting to the right wing and fighting off crisis after crisis that it’s been difficult for them to see this pattern of regulatory failure,” said Rena Steinzor, president of the center and a University of Maryland law professor.

The Government Accountability Office, Congressional committees, and other experts have criticized the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) in recent years. Under President George W. Bush’s administration, critics say, the agency’s chemical assessment efforts ground to a near halt because of interference by other federal agencies, unwarranted delays, and a lack of transparency.

The GAO warned in a 2008 report that the IRIS database “is at serious risk of becoming obsolete.” In January 2009, the GAO added the EPA’s method for assessing and managing chemical risks to its list of “high-risk” areas requiring attention.

Read the rest of this post, by Chris Hamby, here.

Further reading:

Russell Train, Nixon's head of the EPA, on his former agency under Bush Jr., "I'd say George W. Bush has declared war on the environment, and I think people ought to stand up and be counted in opposition to that."

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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