Environment agency’s integrated risk information system attacked at congressional hearing

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programme that identifies and characterises the health hazards of chemicals in the environment proved to be a political football at a hearing of the House of Representatives’ science committee on 6 September.

The committee’s Republican leadership questioned whether the programme – known as the integrated risk information system (Iris) – should continue at all. They accused Iris of having a weak scientific foundation, as well as providing duplicative and conflicting chemical safety information. The Republicans cited previous criticisms of the programme by the congressional Government Accountability Office and others, arguing that the EPA has failed to address these vulnerabilities of the programme.

Democrats argued that their Republican counterparts are trying to undermine public health assessments and disempower the EPA. They accused the committee’s Republican leadership of inviting only industry representatives as witnesses at the hearing but nobody from the EPA.

Thomas Burke, who served as the EPA’s science adviser under President Obama, did testify. He said that Iris assessments provide essential science guidance for agency decisions about chemical safety, but warned that they are a political target. ‘Don’t like the regulatory decision – attack the science,’ Burke added.