Millions of people may be exposed to toxic chemicals as a result of a new Bush Administration policy, according to an accusation leveled by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The problem is with the Environmental Protection Agency, and its Integrated Risk Information System. IRIS is the government's tool for evaluating the potential risks of toxic chemicals, and the NRDC says a new policy will delay the assessment for hundreds of chemicals, while limiting the ability for the public and scientists to influence the decisions made about toxicity.
If this sounds like inside baseball, consider this: The EPA assessments are used to define how much of a given chemical is too much. If the assessments aren't carried out quickly and effectively, harmful chemicals may be allowed to linger in the air, contaminate water, or infiltrate consumer goods.
NRDC's basic charge is that a new Bush Administration policy will give federal agencies, and potentially polluting industries, undue influence at the earliest stages of analysis, where they might cover up harmful effects. Dueling science is common when it comes to potential health risks of chemicals, with industry-paid sources claiming safety while independent scientists often find harm. Federal agencies, such as the Defense Department, often use, or are responsible for cleaning up, toxic substances, too, so the influence of other governmental agencies could derail an effort to truthfully state the risks associated with a chemical.
These changes are yet another escalation of the administrations war on science and public health that has gone on for nearly eight years," said Linda Greer, director of NRDCs public health program. "The recent changes to the IRIS process are part of a much broader agenda to sacrifice public health protections and limit public understanding of the risk of toxic chemicals to benefit polluting industries and federal agencies. By attempting to weaken the IRIS process, the administration has zeroed in on one of the earliest and most fundamental steps in protecting public health, in which EPAs scientists identify the health risks posed by exposure to certain chemicals.
The Government Accountability Office, an independent investigative arm of Congress, also criticized the new policy, stating that it would delay assessments and result in conclusions that were less credible.
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