Subcommittee Investigates IRIS

The Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology recently held a hearing on the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), a database established in the 1980s to provide a single source of information on the risks associated with exposure to chemicals.

The IRIS database provides a hazard identification and dose-response analysis, scientific information that, when combined with estimates of exposure, allow regulatory agencies to produce a risk assessment.
"Americans need an efficient system to evaluate the risk to public health and the environment of chemicals on a regular basis and have ready access to that information," said Subcommittee Chair Brad Miller (D-N.C.).

A long-standing challenge for the IRIS database is meeting the requests for information on the many chemicals that are manufactured and used in global commerce and updating information on chemicals that have been previously evaluated. Approximately 700 new chemicals enter commerce each year. Those new chemicals are added to the more than 80,000 currently reported under the Toxic Substances Control Act as being in the market. In addition, about one-half of the assessments on approximately 480 chemicals currently in the database need to be updated, according to EPA staff estimates.

In recent years, IRIS' assessments have not been the open discussions among scientists normally associated with scientific peer review. The Office of Management and Budget has been managing the increasingly secretive process, according to the subcommittee.

"OMB's mission does not include scientific analysis, nor does OMB appear be have the expertise to perform such work," said Miller. "As a result of OMB's control of IRIS evaluation procedures, four chemicals have been listed on IRIS in the last two fiscal years. EPA scientists produced 15 or so assessments in each of these years, but the assessments disappeared into an abyss of elaborate, endless reviews, mostly behind closed doors. The system is fundamentally broken and cries out for reform." 

To keep IRIS relevant would require aggressive moves to speed the production and approval of entries. Congress has actually increased funding for IRIS staff in recent years in an effort to address this severe backlog.

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