The Senate Appropriations Committee has cut funding for the US EPA's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program in the budget proposal for the fiscal year 2018. The Senate’s move would eliminate IRIS program and would most likely pass control of chemical research from IRIS to the political appointees who manage the agency's regulatory program.
The Senate committee published on its website its version of the fiscal 2018 appropriations bill on November 20. The bill shows that EPA’s overall funding would be reduced by $149 Million although it’s still $3.8 Billion more than the House’s counterpart legislation approved in September. The EPA funding in the Senate bill is $22.5 Billion over the Trump administration’s requested budget that called for a 30% cut.
The Senate bill shows appropriation of $111.6 Million for chemical research for chemical sustainability and safety. It’s $15.3 Million lower, but is more substantial than the funding in the House version and restores over half of the $27 Million in reductions in the administration proposal.
Abolishing the IRIS Program
A report with the bill says that since there will be no funds provided for IRIS, the Senate committee “has transferred resources within the agency from IRIS to help implement the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act," in the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
IRIS is part of the National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA), one of the seven laboratory organizations that carry out actual research on chemical safety and sustainability as well as the other five thematic research programs under the Office of Research and Development (ORD).
According to Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee members, the bill transfers the work of the IRIS to the newly-amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) program, which was not created to carry out the scope of the responsibilities of the IRIS program.
It’s not clear how the committee’s majority plans to redistribute funds and responsibilities to implement the TSCA reforms as mandated by the Lautenberg Act. The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) which is responsible for the implementation of the TSCA reforms would be headed by Michael Dourson if his controversial nomination is confirmed in the Senate.
Dr. Jennifer McPartland of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) criticized the treatment of IRIS in the Senate bill. The senior scientist at the EDF said that the move of IRIS personnel from the ORD to the OCSPP would mean EPA’s loss of the “scientific expertise” that supports the agency as well as seriously weakens its Congress-mandated legal responsibilities. She added that the move would end the independence between scientific reviews and the resulting regulatory decisions based on the reviews.
Dr. McPartland also mentions that the EPA’s website itself states that having the IRIS program under the ORD "ensures that IRIS can develop impartial toxicity information independent of its use by EPA’s program and regional offices."
Alternative Test Methods
The report from the Senate panel also mentions about the creation of a strategic plan to push for alternative test methods as required under the TSCA. The emerging plans were discussed by EPA officials at a recently-held public meeting. Aside from public meetings, the development of the plan should include discussions with “the scientific community” and a final document memorializes the procedures. The Senate Committee scheduled a progress report on the alternative test method project to be submitted by September 30, 2018.
The report ends by addressing a TSCA provision that allows the EPA to charge manufacturers with service fees. The fees would replace the $10 Million allocated in 2018 with federal funds.