White House Policy Undermining EPA Scientists On Cancer Risks Of Chemicals, GAO Says
WASHINGTON, Apr. 28, 2008
(AP) The Bush administration is undermining the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to determine health dangers of toxic chemicals by letting nonscientists have a bigger _ often secret _ say, congressional investigators say in a report obtained by The Associated Press.
The administration's decision to give the Defense Department and other agencies an early role in the process adds to years of delay in acting on harmful chemicals and jeopardizes the program's credibility, the Government Accountability Office concluded.
Cancer risk assessments for nearly a dozen major chemicals are now years overdue, the GAO said, blaming the new multiagency reviews for some of the delay. The EPA, for example, had promised to prepare assessments on 10 major toxic chemicals for external peer review by the end of 2007, but only two reached that stage.
GAO investigators said extensive involvement by EPA managers, White House budget officials and other agencies has eroded the independence of EPA scientists charged with determining the health risks posed by chemicals.
The Pentagon, the Energy Department, NASA and other agencies _ all of which could be severely affected by EPA risk findings _ are being allowed to participate "at almost every step in the assessment process," said the GAO.
Those agencies, their private contractors and manufacturers of the chemicals face restrictions and major cleanup requirements, depending on the EPA's scientific determinations.
The GAO investigation focused on the EPA's computerized database, known as IRIS _ the Integrated Risk Information System. It contains data on the human health effects of exposure to some 540 toxic chemicals in the environment. New chemicals are being roposed constantly for inclusion under a complicated assessment process that can take five years or more.
After years of stops and starts, the GAO said, the EPA has yet to determine carcinogen risks for a number of major chemicals such as:
_Naphthalene, a chemical used in rocket fuel as well as in manufacturing commercial products such as mothballs, dyes and insecticides.
_Trichloroethylene, or TCE, a widely used industrial degreasing agent.
_Perchloroethylene, or "perc," a chemical used in dry cleaning, metal degreasing and making chemical products.
_Formaldehyde, a colorless, flammable gas used to making building materials.
Environmentalists say these chemicals have been widely found at military bases and Superfund sites and in soil, lakes, streams and groundwater.
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