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EPA Dumps Trump-Era Chemical Analysis Approach After Rebuke (1)

Feb. 16, 2021, 5:44 PM; Updated: Feb. 16, 2021, 8:26 PM

Sharp criticism from the federal government’s top science advisory institute on Tuesday prompted the EPA to drop a method developed during the Trump administration to analyze chemicals.

The “systematic review” method developed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemicals office in 2018 isn’t comprehensive, workable, objective, or transparent, and it “does not meet state-of-practice standards,” according to the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Chemical manufacturers, EPA’s science advisers, academic scientists, and environmental health groups have criticized the Trump-era chemical office’s approach.

“EPA is not using, and will not again use,” that approach, the agency announced Tuesday in conjunction with the academies’ report.

Understanding Rationale

Systemic review is a predetermined approach to identify, assess, and pull together scientific studies to decide what science is or isn’t used and how much weight the science that’s used is given. It’s designed to help people outside the agency understand the rationale by which the agency reaches conclusions.

The 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act amendments require the EPA to follow specific scientific standards, including using the best available science and the weight of scientific evidence. To achieve this, EPA’s chemicals office in 2018 developed an analytic approach that was vastly different than the one that the agency’s research office has been developing for years.

The EPA chemicals office is now working with its research office to incorporate strategies developed by the research office’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program—strategies that the academies recommended in their report, the agency said.

“Strengthening the process used to select this information will improve chemical safety and ensure our risk evaluations protect human health and the environment,” Michal Freedhoff, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in EPA’s announcement.

Clearer Process Predicted

In addition to the IRIS systematic review method, the academies endorsed systematic review approaches developed by the National Toxicology Program and by scientists at the University of California San Francisco, or UCSF.

Using such approaches will bring “consistency across the agency and with globally established best scientific practices,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. They’ll also help people understand how the agency reached its conclusions in chemical risk evaluations, she said.

The Trump-era chemicals office “pretended to use science, but used the science it wanted to get the results it wanted,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, which developed one of the systematic review approaches the academies endorsed. Those results generally favored industry, not public health, she said.

Using the approaches the academies recommended “will result in better decision making and protect public health,” Woodruff said.

The UCSF program still will “continue to monitor and analyze EPA’s actions under TSCA, demand scientific rigor, and call on EPA to evaluate all of the evidence to ensure that EPA can take appropriate action to protect the public’s health,” Nick Chartres, associate director of science and policy, said in a statement.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, “supports an objective and structured approach to document the methods used to evaluate chemicals” as critical to successfully enacting TSCA’s risk evaluations, spokesman Jon Corley said.

The trade group also will be watching to see how the EPA will use the academies feedback to further improve the TSCA risk evaluation process, Corley said.

(Updates with additional comments.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com

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