The American public will continue to be exposed to chemicals that may cause cancer and other serious health problems because the Bush Administration is giving the likes of political appointees more than i-dotting and t-crossing power: They are a bureaucratic roadblock in the way of professional EPA scientists.
That's the charge of a new Government Accountability Office investigation.
The multi-agency reviews not only give polluters like the Defense Department a big say in how their toxic waste dumps will ultimately be handled, but add months and years to the review process for common chemicals. A common culprit standing in the way of this, and other environmental initiatives in the Bush Administration, is the Office of Management and Budget.
"The Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) mission includes evaluating and regulating toxic chemicals. EPAs Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program is a chemical evaluation program that is a critical component of EPAs capacity to support scientifically sound environmental regulations and policies. The IRIS database contains EPAs scientific position on the potential human health effects of exposure to more than 540 chemicals," the GAO states.
"The IRIS database is at serious risk of becoming obsolete because EPA has not been able to routinely complete timely, credible assessments or decrease its backlog of 70 ongoing assessments a total of 4 were completed in fiscal years 2006 and 2007."
These assessments have a direct role in the lives of people, particularly those who live at or near hazardous waste sites. Remember, too, that few people choose to buy their homes on toxic waste dumps: It's only after buying that hazards are discovered, making these chemical reviews important to all Americans.
Consider the case of Hopewell Precision Superfund site in East Fishkill, N.Y. There, quiet neighborhoods learned their drinking water and indoor air had been contaminated for years by colorless, odorless trichloroethylene, or TCE, which had been dumped decades earlier by a metal cabinet manufacturer tucked miles away on a cul-de-sac. Hundreds of homes were affected, and residents worried over the strange tumors discovered upon the deaths of pets, the incidence of rare cancers and other health problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency ultimately discovered the pollution and installed air and water filters on affected homes most affected homes, that is. The EPA's health assessment of TCE has remained in a draft form, following objections by the Department of Defense and industry groups, since a 2001 review concluded that TCE is far more toxic than previously believed. That left some homeowners looking at air tests that showed concentrations of TCE below cleanup standards, but higher than the level considered safe by the EPA. Dedicated activists in that neighborhood helped force the EPA to address even low-level contamination in homes there, but it shows how other neighborhoods could be at risk.
TCE is among the chemicals waiting on bureaucratic approval despite EPA scientific consensus that its risks are important enough to warrant strict cleanups at polluted sites.
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