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National Academies Set to Review IRIS Assessment Development Procedures

Monday, May 21, 2012

NAS Review of IRIS Assessment Process

Key Development: A branch of the National Academies will begin a comprehensive review of EPA's Integrated Risk Information System assessment development process.

Potential Impact: The review board will offer recommendations that could alter how IRIS assessments are developed.

By Anthony Adragna  

The National Academies will undertake a comprehensive review of the Environmental Protection Agency's Integrated Risk Information System assessment development process, EPA announced May 16.

The National Research Council, a branch of the National Academies, will assess the current process for developing IRIS assessments and analyze improvements suggested by the academies in April 2011 that have been partially implemented by EPA.

The IRIS system provides health information on 550 chemicals that may be present in the environment. EPA uses the assessments to inform rulemakings and says the assessments support the agency's mission of protecting human health and the environment.

A National Academies panel leveled a number of criticisms at the chemical assessment process while examining a draft formaldehyde review in April 2011. The panel said the agency's IRIS reports are often too long and redundant, they do not present scientific information clearly, and they fail to explain the agency's rationale for determining whether or not not a chemical causes health problems (35 CRR 379, 4/11/11).

IRIS reports on ammonia and two trimethylbenzenes will be submitted for peer review this summer using a new document structure developed by EPA in response to the April 2011 recommendations, the agency said in a report provided to Congress in April. EPA was required to submit the report to the House and Senate Appropriations committees under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-74)(36 CRR 496, 5/7/12).

The National Research Council review will consider current methods of conducting weight-of-evidence analyses and will recommend new approaches for chemical hazard identification.

Industry Pleased.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents leading chemical manufacturers, said it supported the NRC review and was pleased the academy would recommend new approaches for weighing scientific evidence.

“Until such improvements are made, the program will continue to produce assessments that create unnecessary confusion and fail to properly guide public health decisions,” the council said in a May 16 statement to BNA. “We have deep concerns that the entire generation of draft, and final IRIS assessments, that have been or will be issued this year, will suffer from many of the very same critical scientific shortcomings that plagued the draft formaldehyde assessment.”

Jack Synder, executive director of the Styrene Information & Research Center, which represents styrene manufacturers, said the center was pleased with EPA's progress in implementing the recommendations from the formaldehyde report, but he said the new review would ensure the integrity of IRIS reports.

“We believe this more comprehensive NAS examination of the IRIS process will help further strengthen the quality of future IRIS assessments,” he said in a statement to BNA. The report will help to “ensure EPA's pending IRIS review of styrene will be as thorough and scientifically balanced as possible.”

Environmental Group Disappointed.

Daniel Rosenberg, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the EPA announcement was not unexpected, but the review was not a “particularly good use of the NAS time.”

Rosenberg said the chemical industry had launched a massive campaign to undermine the credibility of independent scientists. He said it would be troubling if there were chemical industry representation on the review panel.

The Environmental Defense Fund was unavailable for comment.

By Anthony Adragna  

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