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Science Committee GOP Leaders Send Oversight Letter on EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act Risk Assessments

Mar 4, 2021
Press Release

(Washington, DC) – Today, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Stephanie Bice (R-OK), and Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member Jay Obernolte (R-CA) sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the need for timely and consistent risk assessments under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 

The TSCA requires EPA to evaluate potential risks from chemicals and gives the agency power to restrict their use. EPA recently announced that they would be overhauling TSCA’s systematic review process and has indicated a desire to duplicate the process used by another EPA program – the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). For more than a decade, the IRIS program has come under fire from Congress and independent reviewers like the National Academies for its inconsistent process, lack of transparency, and failure to complete assessments in a timely fashion. 

“We ask for your commitment that, in accordance with congressional intent to operate with flexibility and speed, TSCA does not fully or consistently adopt program processes or procedures implemented by IRIS,” the letter reads. “If elements developed by the IRIS Program are incorporated into TSCA, we expect the Agency to assess their benefits and impacts thoroughly, while also adhering to the statutorily prescribed deadlines and scientific standards mandated.”  

“TSCA decisions affect millions of people and businesses,” Lucas said. “Builders need this information to design safe construction, farmers use it to choose effective pesticides, and manufacturers rely on it when choosing their materials. Businesses and consumers need to trust that EPA is making safe and sound decisions, so we can’t afford to use a flawed process that drags on for years.” 

“While the Biden Administration has promised to make decisions using the best available science when evaluating chemical risks, changing the TSCA systemic review process to duplicate the IRIS program would be a step in the wrong direction,” Bice said. “The IRIS program has been plagued with issues, as previously reported to SST. It is my hope that the Biden Administration is committed to a fair process that will not be delayed by a desire to replicate a program that has created uncertainty for businesses, farmers and ranchers who have to accommodate burdensome regulations.”

“When developing chemical risk evaluations, it is important that the EPA uses the highest quality and best available science to keep Americans safe. It is also critical that they be able to make these recommendations in a timely manner without burdensome and potentially unwarranted processes and procedures getting in the way,” said Obernolte. “If the executive branch plans to review current EPA guidelines, I encourage them to do so with an eye towards efficiency, accuracy, and the elimination of bureaucratic red tape that stands in the way of getting the job done for the American people.”

The full letter is available here.

 


Dear Acting Administrator Nishida:

 
As Ranking Members on the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, we write to express our concern about the broad reconsideration that has been proposed for the systematic review methods utilized under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). On February 16, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will refine its approach to selecting and reviewing the scientific studies that are used to inform TSCA chemical risk evaluations, known as systematic review. This decision was based on a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
 
We share your commitment to using the highest quality and best available science when developing chemical risk evaluations. As noted in EPA’s announcement, the 2018 Application of Systematic Review in TSCA Risk Evaluations document—which laid out EPA’s evolving approach to systematic review as it began its first evaluations under amended TSCA—was never intended to be a long-term guideline. As such, it should be updated based on the experience gained during completion of the first ten risk evaluations, along with stakeholder input. Our concern arises from EPA’s apparent desire to duplicate the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program in its efforts to refine TSCA’s systematic review.
            
The Science Committee has long conducted oversight of the IRIS Program and the issues that have plagued it for more than a decade. In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) added the IRIS Program to its High-Risk List—a biannual list of federal programs in need of transformation due to their high vulnerability to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement—where it remains to date with seven open recommendations.
 
Numerous authoritative reports have also criticized the IRIS Program for its lack of transparency, process and procedural flaws, and the utilization of improper and unsound science. In 2011, the National Academies published a review of the draft formaldehyde IRIS assessment which found the draft “was not prepared in a consistent fashion; it lacks clear links to an underlying conceptual framework; and it does not contain sufficient documentation….” In December of 2019, TSCA identified formaldehyde as a High-Priority Substance and it is currently undergoing a risk evaluation. Repeating the flaws of the IRIS assessment by using the same process would be negligent and irresponsible.
 
Furthermore, in 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act amended TSCA to provide specific criteria that EPA must use to assess risk and prioritize chemicals for review. It also prescribed strict time frames within which EPA must perform its review process. There are no similar statutorily mandated requirements for the IRIS Program. Therefore, EPA should take steps to ensure TSCA is not duplicating flawed and lengthy IRIS processes or approaches to evaluating science. Despite making progress in recent years, it has taken IRIS nearly 10 years to address troubling issues, and many remain unresolved. On average, it still takes the IRIS Program seven years to complete an assessment while the TSCA Program is statutorily mandated to complete a risk assessment in no more than three and a half years. That is why the suggestion that TSCA would fully adopt any part of the IRIS Program—whether it be IRIS’s tailored use of systematic review or a long-delayed draft handbook that is only still in the review process—is disconcerting.
 
We urge the Agency to expedite any reevaluation of TSCA’s systematic review methods, in a transparent and inclusive manner that includes stakeholder input, to avoid further delay of the pending evaluations. We ask for your commitment that, in accordance with congressional intent to operate with flexibility and speed, TSCA does not fully or consistently adopt program processes or procedures implemented by IRIS. If elements developed by the IRIS Program are incorporated into TSCA, we expect the Agency to assess their benefits and impacts thoroughly, while also adhering to the statutorily prescribed deadlines and scientific standards mandated. 
                                                                                      
TSCA risk evaluations should not be delayed by the desire to incorporate potentially unwarranted and burdensome processes and procedures, many of which are yet unproven, from the IRIS Program. We urge you to consider these concerns so that TSCA can function in an effective and efficient manner into the future, while avoiding the pitfalls that have plagued the IRIS Program. Anything less would be an abdication of EPA’s charge to protect human health and the environment.
 

 

117th Congress