By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a new report on April 11, 2018, that finds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program has made “substantial progress” in implementing recommendations outlined by the National Academies in previous reports. According to the April 11, 2018, press release, the transformation of IRIS began several years ago, after the release of a 2011 National Academies report that provided suggestions for creating a more systematic and transparent IRIS process. In a 2014 report, the National Academies reviewed the changes implemented by EPA since 2011 and concluded that the improvements were considerable. Under the Program’s new leadership, EPA asked the National Academies to review again its progress toward addressing past recommendations. The press release states that the National Academies’ latest review, Progress Toward Transforming the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program, finds that the IRIS Program has made substantial progress in incorporating systematic-review methods into its process and assessments. The IRIS Program has also established a systematic-review working group and engaged subject-matter experts. According to the report, these groups should increase efficiency and consistency among assessments and improve the scientific rigor of the assessments. Although the National Academies Committee to Review Advances Made to the IRIS Process “offers some refinements and identifies a few possibilities for further development,” the report states that “its overall conclusion is that EPA has been responsive and has made substantial progress in implementing National Academies[’] recommendations.”
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
On September 6, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. (EDT), the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittees on Environment and on Oversight will hold a joint hearing on “Examining the Scientific and Operational Integrity of EPA’s IRIS Program.” The following witnesses are scheduled to testify:
- Dr. Kenneth Mundt, Principal, Ramboll Environ;
- Dr. James Bus, Senior Managing Scientist, Exponent; and
- Dr. Thomas Burke, former Deputy Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Research and Development (ORD) and EPA’s Science Advisor under former President Obama; Johns Hopkins University.
President Trump’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2018 would have eliminated EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program, although the IRIS Program is included in the final budget request. The EPA Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) August 29-30, 2017, meeting included an update from ORD’s National Center for Environmental Assessment on the IRIS Program. According to the presentation, IRIS is working to increase transparency and full implementation of systematic review; modernize the IRIS Program; modularize product lines; and enhance accessibility. Other IRIS improvements include implementing “next generation IRIS” and improved management practices. During the meeting, the SAB agreed to send a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in support of the IRIS Program.
By Christopher R. Bryant, Lynn L. Bergeson, and Margaret R. Graham
Facing a government shutdown, late on April 30, 2017, lawmakers reached agreement on a spending bill that funds the federal government through September 2017, which is the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.
President Trump’s budget blueprint sought to slash EPA’s coffers by some 31 percent (and more if certain programs were eliminated from the base). The deal reached by lawmakers, however, would essentially fund EPA at its current levels and retain current staff levels. The bill appropriates $8.058 billion for EPA, paring a little over $80 million -- about one percent -- from EPA’s FY 2016 budget.
Programs targeted for elimination by President Trump remain funded, at least through September, when Congress will face another budget showdown. For example, the bill funds the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Program, and lead elimination programs.
While EPA’s budget is generally unchanged, the bill does contain several policy riders. It would require EPA to treat air emissions from forest biomass as carbon neutral. EPA also would not be allowed to regulate manure and similar agricultural byproducts as wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the bill would bar EPA from requiring Clean Water Act (CWA) permits for certain agricultural practices. The legislation also prohibits funding to regulate lead content of ammunition, ammunition components, and fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) or any other law.
Senate Report No. 114-281 on the pending FY 2017 budget deal and an accompanying explanatory statement also address specifically TSCA, the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), and nanomaterials. The specific language is below.
- Toxic Substances Control Act Modernization -- The Committee notes that legislation to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act [TSCA] was recently approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. This bill includes language that will enable the EPA to collect and spend new fees to conduct additional chemical reviews, consistent with TSCA modernization legislation. Those fees are expected to be $25,000,000 per year once the program is fully implemented. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in fiscal year 2017, fee collections will begin several months after the beginning of the fiscal year and will total $4,000,000. This bill also includes language ensuring that new fee collections will supplement, not supplant, appropriated resources for these activities.
- Integrated Risk Information System -- The Committee is aware of efforts by the Agency to implement the 2011 National Academy of Science’s [NAS] Chapter 7 and 2014 NAS report recommendations for the Integrated Risk Information System [IRIS] but remains concerned that the recommendations have not been fully implemented. In published appendices that accompany final IRIS assessments, EPA has detailed some of the Agency’s deficiencies in meeting the NAS high-priority reforms. The Committee directs the Agency to convene an interagency working group to be Co-Chaired with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and to include relevant executive branch stakeholders to review compliance with the NAS recommendations in IRIS assessments issued since the 2014 NAS report. The working group shall focus specifically on transition from the use of single point estimates of hazard and exposure to presenting more complete information on the distribution of estimated hazards, exposures, and/or risks, including central tendency values; on processes for evaluating study quality, relevance, and risk of bias; the use of a transparent and reproducible weight-of-evidence process for applying scientific findings; the selection of an adverse outcome; and the use of default linear low-dose extrapolation and other default modeling approaches to hazard determinations. The Committee directs the Agency to issue a report to the Committees of Appropriations of the House and Senate on the findings of the working group and the implementation plans of its findings within 180 days of enactment of this act. The working group report shall also include a timetable for EPA’s full implementation of the NAS recommendations for all IRIS assessments issued since the 2014 NAS report.
- Nanomaterials Research -- The Committee notes the increased capabilities that the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has developed to study environment, health, and safety of nanomaterials [nanoEHS] within FDA’s Jefferson Laboratory Campus, including the National Center for Toxicological Research, and its consolidated headquarters at White Oak, Maryland. The FDA can and should be more involved in nanoEHS research with other agencies, particularly in activities involving human health. Out of the amounts appropriated, the [EPA} Administrator shall seek to involve the FDA in nanoEHS research to the maximum extent possible, including participation in EPA funded research.
By Christopher R. Bryant and Lynn L. Bergeson
According to press reports, Nancy Beck, Ph.D., DABT has been hired as the Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). Dr. Beck holds a doctorate in environmental health from the University of Washington. For the past five years she served as the Senior Director for Regulatory Science Policy at the American Chemistry Council (ACC). For a decade prior to ACC, she was an analyst within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Despite Dr. Beck’s compelling credentials, the appointment has displeased some stakeholders. Dr. Beck has been a staunch critic of how EPA conducts chemical risk assessments and its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). President Trump is proposing to eliminate IRIS; it thus is unlikely that Dr. Beck would revive or rely upon it in implementing the recently revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Less than two months ago, Dr. Beck provided testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management calling for changes to EPA’s risk assessment processes.