Concerns were raised by one senator that the Environmental Protection Agency’s inquiry to overhaul the way potentially dangerous substances are scrutinised, was being stifled by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – a body that helps President prepare the federal budget.
In September, EPA chief Lisa Jackson unveiled sweeping plans to revamp the current system under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which she dismissed “inadequate”.
Spearheading this change, Jackson said the EPA would begin evaluating half a dozen of the most high-profile chemicals that have raised concerns – including phthalates found in fragrances as a solubilizer and in nail varnishes.
However, Representative Edward J. Markey, who is Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was concerned the review of the chemicals could be jeopardised by OMB’s attempts to limit new research.
In the past the OMB has been used by industry to “gut sound environmental regulations,” he said.
Markey wrote to the OMB following reports the body was trying to limit new research the EPA could use in its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program to assess the effect certain chemicals had on human health.
According to Markey, when the EPA requested to begin collecting the information needed to assess these chemicals, OMB instructed EPA to accept ‘existing data’ and other relevant information from suppliers of the chemicals, rather than performing tests necessary to identify any endocrine disrupting properties.
His letter to the OMB raised questions about whether this directive was intended to prevent EPA scientists from seeking all relevant toxicological studies about these chemicals and said “such actions could put the public health at risk”.
Defer to EPA
In his reply, OMB director Peter Orszag made clear the body would defer to the EPA’s expertise to assess endocrine disruptors, saying the body “fully supports the EPA’s sole authority to make scientific decisions” on the matter.
Chairman Markey welcomed the assurance and continued: "In some previous administrations, OMB has at times been used by industry opponents to try and gut sound environmental regulations under the rubric of 'paperwork reduction’. I am encouraged by Director Orszag's statement that he recognizes the need to have a robust testing program to determine the nature of the risks that endocrine disrupting chemicals pose to human health."