Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

EPA Toxic Chemical Policies

406 Dirksen
Tue, 29 Apr 2008 14:00:00 GMT

Witnesses
  • James B. Gulliford, Assistant Administrator for Pesticides, Prevention, and Toxic Substances, United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • John B. Stephenson, Director, Natural Resources & Environment, U.S. Government and Accountability Office
Panel 2
  • Linda Giudice MD, PhD, Chair, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences Department, University of California, San Francisco
  • Annette Gellert, Co-Founder and Chair, WELL Network
  • V.M. DeLisi, Fanwood Chemical, Inc., On behalf of the Synthetic Organic Chemicals Manufacturers Association
  • Laura Plunkett, Ph.D, Integrative Biostrategies, LLC
  • Lynn R. Goldman, MD, MPH, Chair, Interdepartmental Program in Applied Public Health, Environmental Health Sciences, Occupational and Environmental Health, Johns Hopkins University

E&E News:

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will meet tomorrow to discuss changes U.S. EPA made earlier this month to a key chemical database that would allow federal stakeholders, scientists and the public to weigh in early in the chemical risk assessment process.

The agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) provides access to research on chemicals found in the environment and their potential health effects. The risk assessments are used to create public health standards.

Under the new plan, EPA not only would invite other agencies to participate in the risk assessment process earlier but also would hold listening sessions to “allow for broader participation and engagement of interested parties,” according to the agency’s Research and Development Office. EPA also said the changes would result in an even more rigorous scientific peer review of IRIS assessments.

EPW Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the changes would be problematic. “They put politics before science by letting the White House and federal polluters derail EPA’s scientific assessment of toxic chemicals,” she said in a statement.

The Government Accountability Office is expected to issue a report that addresses Boxer’s concerns (Greenwire, April 11).

But some Republicans hope the hearing will give EPA a chance to promote the progress they have made on knowing and understanding the many chemicals that are out in the public sphere.

“The perception is that there are all of these chemicals in commercial use that EPA doesn’t know about,” said a Republican aide to the committee. “We think that’s erroneous. EPA has done a good job in recent years to try to increase what we know about the risks and toxicity [of chemicals]. It’s done a lot through voluntary steps, as well as some statutory ones, so I think it’s important that EPA talk about what they’ve been doing.”

10:00 Boxer The levels set in IRIS are used for most EPA regulatory programs and many state programs. The level set for arsenic in water and benzene in air went through IRIS. Early in the Bush administration, they acted to bring OMB in the process. Administrator Johnson made changing IRIS a high priority. Noone can explain to me where there is room for politics when you’re determining the health of the American people. Instead of having scientists at EPA deciding, we now have contractors effectively at the table. The entire process is kept secret. Here’s the irony: this administration has no end in sight for funding for the DoD. Isn’t it ironic that they are derailing the census of toxic chemicals. Similarly GAO found delays in risk assessments of formaldehyde. Scientists told our committee staff the process was delayed and people continued to be exposed.

Scientists reported, “De facto, EPA can’t go ahead without DoD and White House sign-off.”

The role of independent scientists at EPA must be restored.

10:10 Inhofe The witness invited runs the TSCA program, not the IRIS program. This GAO report was distributed on Friday. But it was completed on March 7, and then embargoed. My concern is that this hearing seems to be set up as a gotcha hearing. If the chairman were truly concerned about oversight, she would have shared the report with the minority and invited the right administrator. I believe there should be oversight of the ethanol program, which has raised food prices and caused riots. We should be concerned about this diversion from fuel to food.

10:13 Boxer We did tell your staff IRIS was an important part. We wanted Administrator Johnson. We think this is bigger than the IRIS program. I don’t mind that you are unhappy with me. What’s important is the bottom line. This is a scandal, frankly. Our families are being put at risk because politics has entered the process.

10:15 Inhofe I didn’t attack you on this. I think if we ask for an embargo we should share with each other.

10:15 Lautenberg How nice it is to start this spring day with a discussion not of the issues, but the process. While bisphenol-A is being developed, the EPA did nothing. They were silent. Out of the 80,000 chemicals used now, the EPA has only tested 200. It’s unacceptable. I refuse to let my grandchildren to become the new canaries in the coalmine. I will soon introduce a new version of the Kid Safe Chemical Act. This legislation would direct the EPA to make sure every chemical is safe before they end up in products. We do this with pesticides and pharmaceuticals already. It seems to make sense to do that with industrial chemicals as well.

10:21 Barrasso There is nothing we would not provide for our children. The question we should ask is, has the chemical industry helped improve the lives of our children? Is TSCA perfect? No. Could it be improved? Perhaps. Can it be better implemented? Certainly… PVC is used in prosthetics.

10:27 Boxer We’re talking about protective standards in our water and our air, not in prosthetics.

10:28 Barrasso The plastics that I’ve seen use chemicals.

Boxer We’re not talking about banning them, we’re talking about regulating them. Nothing that you said I object to. I’m saying we need to control them when scientists say they cause birth defects, when they cause cancer.

10:29 Whitehouse We have 80,000 chemicals to which American families are exposed, very few of which are tested.

10:31 Craig We have to talk about the role of chemicals in society. I’m going to err on the side of a doctor, not a politician—Barrasso. Our history is replete with the lack of knowledge and understanding with respect to the pollution of chemicals in our society. We’re talking about jobs.

10:36 Boxer It is not our job to keep the chemical industry at the table. It might be in another committee. When it comes to the profitability of the chemical industry, let them do that in the Commerce Committee. Dr. Barrasso is an orthopedic surgeon. On this panel we will have a pediatrician and an ob/gyn. The people who know about this are the experts. All this “confusion” about this hearing. The title of this hearing is “Oversight of EPA Toxic Chemical Policies.” Policies. We can talk about TSCA, we can talk about IRIS. I’m a little stunned that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle aren’t working with us. There’s a train leaving the station with Admin Johnson and Bush’s OMB on it trying to derail a very important program to keep our children safe.

10:39 Klobuchar I see our role as oversight of enforcement. I’m not just a mother but also a prosecutor. If you don’t have the enforcement angle, then we’re not doing our job, and Congress has to come in. I come at this not naively, but look at these toys. Our Consumer Product Safety Commission wasn’t looking at these toys. I was shocked to read the testimony of Ms. Gellert.

10:58 Boxer You’re getting tainted information, and that’s a problem.

11:00 Gulliford It’s important for us to prioritize chemicals.

Barrasso So the chemical industry doesn’t always agree with you.

Gulliford Our job is to take industry information.

Boxer The progress on lead was made under the old rules.

11:01 Whitehouse The carveout is for other federal agencies. Everyone else has to be public. You go to the White House and you can stick any comments in. Isn’t that a legitimate concern?

Gulliford I don’t believe that would happen.

Whitehouse What prevents the OMB from inserting political influence?

Gulliford You’re making the assumption OMB is political.

Whitehouse We generally try to prevent problems. If you leave a door open to that, it’s not adequate to say, “Well, we can’t prove it’s used for that.”

Gulliford The final products of the IRIS process are reviewed by third-parties. It’s a very transparent process.

11:06 Boxer I just want to say, you’re a very good witness. GAO said it’s a black box. It is secret. Sen. Whitehouse is just reiterating what we know is the truth.

11:07 Craig I’m trying to understand the process because it seems to be the process that is under attack, not the outcome. How many premanufacturing notices has the EPA received versus notices to commence?

11:25 Whitehouse There’s nothing in the process that would prevent or disclose whether a polluter made campaign contributions, was a Pioneer or whatever, and then went to the OMB to influence this process.

Stephenson That’s our fear.

Boxer The whole spirit of this country is openness and trusting citizens with information. Noone should be in that room in the early risk assessment process except the scientists and those concerned with public health. When I go home, I hear all the time about the fears of my constituents. I wish I could tell them we’ve done a stellar job. We haven’t. This process will institutionalize this nightmare. This is a secret process. It’s a nightmare.

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