Officials with the Government Accountability Office are criticizing the Bush administration after they changed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviews in a way that will delay scientific assessments of health risks and open the review process to politicization. Many feel this policy change is corrupting the process, putting the integrity of the program at jeopardy. The reviews use the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) and are an important step in an already backlogged system. Regulators use this system before doing anything else since they need to know if exposure to a chemical is likely to cause cancer or other serious problems before they can decide to limit its use.
The new policy started by the White House, which began this month, allows the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), along with other agencies, to offer secret input on assessments of long-term exposure to chemicals like formaldehyde. Agencies, such as the Energy department, are now allowed to submit their own scientific studies and make comments to IRIS. They are also allowed to request further research on a chemical. This could prolong by months or years the review of different chemicals.
These agencies, and the private contractors that do business with them, use some of the chemicals under review so they would face a heavy cleanup cost or legal liability if the EPA decided to regulate the chemicals. Another concern is that the OMB deemed the input as deliberative, meaning it is to be kept secret from the public and not up for debate among the scientific community. This makes it impossible to see agencies are operating for the interest of science or less noble reasons. The EPA, however, insists the change will make the risk assessment process more open to scientists, to draw on outside expertise and at the end of the day, the decision to regulate always falls on the EPA. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/29/AR2008042902559_pf.html