100 Days of EPA Science, and Beyond

By Kacee Deener

Numeral 100 with clouds and sky in backgroundEPA recently highlighted some of the Agency’s achievements during Gina McCarthy’s first 100 days as Administrator, noting that we have made significant strides towards improving the health of American families and protecting the environment across the country.

One of the seven highlighted examples is “Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety” – which includes strengthening chemical assessments through changes to the Agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program.  In a recent blog post, I described these changes and why they make sense for the IRIS Program, the Agency, and the American people.  But the IRIS Program hasn’t stopped there.  We’ve been moving forward implementing the changes.  Since August, we have:

  1. Released early materials for several chemical assessments.  These materials highlight our thought process for determining which studies are most important for the assessment, help make sure we didn’t miss any important research, and help identify potential scientific controversies early on.
  2. Scheduled the first IRIS public bimonthly meeting (Dec. 12-13).  At this meeting we will discuss the early materials for three chemicals (ETBE, tert-butanol, and RDX) and the draft assessments and peer review charges for two chemical assessments (ethylene oxide and benzo[a]pyrene).
  3. Held a public scientific workshop to discuss the IRIS assessment of hexavalent chromium.  An important component of determining the cancer causing potential of ingested hexavalent chromium is understanding the rates at which this metal is effectively detoxified in the gastrointestinal tract.  EPA convened an expert panel to discuss this issue in September; more than 200 stakeholders participated!
  4. Scheduled a scientific workshop on mouse lung tumors.  At this workshop, which will be held in early 2014, experts will discuss the available data from studies of mouse lung tumors following exposure to chemicals and discuss the relevance of these tumors in mice to assessing human cancer risk.
  5. Released final IRIS assessments for biphenyl, 1,4-dioxane (inhalation update), and methanol (noncancer). These final assessments provide information on the health effects of these chemicals and toxicity values that risk assessors can use (along with exposure and other information) to make decisions to protect public health.
  6. Announced a workshop on formaldehydeThis workshop, which will be held in spring 2014, will focus on several scientific issues pertinent to assessing the potential health effects of inhaled formaldehyde.  We’re taking input on speakers/panelists and topics for three theme areas – you can send us your suggestions here.

I think you’ll agree we’ve been making tremendous progress!  These activities illustrate our commitment to scientific integrity, public input, and transparency as we work together to produce the highest quality scientific assessments to inform decisions to protect public health.

About the Author: Kacee Deener is the Communications Director in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, home of the IRIS Program.  She joined EPA 12 years ago and has a Masters degree in Public Health.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Reducing Exposure to Formaldehyde in Composite Wood Products

By Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

The mention of the word “formaldehyde” might conjure up memories of a school science class or museum visits and seeing animals preserved in liquid-filled jars. While formaldehyde may no longer be used for these purposes, it is still used in adhesives to make composite wood products, like particle board and other building materials for furniture and other products. Composite wood products are made from pieces, chips, particles of wood that are bonded together with resins that may contain formaldehyde. The chemical can cause adverse health effects, including eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as respiratory symptoms and cancer.

In 2010, Congress passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, or Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act. As required by the Act, today we are proposing limits on how much formaldehyde can be released from a variety of composite wood products and to establish requirements to ensure these products comply with the regulations. The proposed rules align where practical with existing requirements for composite wood products in California.

These requirements, when final, will further reduce the public’s exposure to the formaldehyde found in many products in our homes and workplaces. For new and renovated homes formaldehyde may be reduced up to 26%. Also, when final, they will encourage the industry trend toward switching to no-added formaldehyde resins in products, further reducing you and your family’s exposure to formaldehyde.

While many manufacturers are already complying with the requirements in place in California, EPA’s actions will ensure the same protections for all Americans, no matter what State you live in. In addition, EPA’s proposal expands upon the California regulation by including laminated products, which is estimated to reduce formaldehyde emissions from these products 45 – 90%. The actions will also ensure that the composite wood products sold in this country meet the same standards for formaldehyde regardless of whether they are made in the United States or abroad.

The proposals released today are an example of what can be accomplished when there is adequate statutory authority for action. This lies in stark contrast to the lack of authority EPA has to regulate other chemicals and highlights the on-going need for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, this country’s chemicals management legislation. All Americans have the right to expect that the chemicals used in the products they use every day are safe. The time has come to provide EPA with the tools necessary to protect you and your families from unnecessary risks from all chemicals.

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 26 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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