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National Academies’ report shows that EPA has strengthened IRIS program

2014 May 6
Lek Kadeli


May 6, 2014
3:00 pm EDT

By Lek Kadeli

One of the best aspects of my job is working with some of the most dedicated human health and environmental scientists in the business. On a daily basis, I have a behind-the-scenes view of the innovation and problem solving that is meeting the nation’s most pressing environmental challenges and advancing a more sustainable future for us and our children. It’s inspiring to see that progress unfold, and I feel fortunate to have a front row seat. But what’s even more gratifying is when leaders in the scientific community world take notice, too.

That’s exactly what happened today when we received positive news about progress we’ve made to enhance our Integrated Risk Information System, or “IRIS” program. IRIS provides health effects information about environmental contaminants such as dioxin and tetrachloroethylene. The program received some well-deserved kudos from the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC). I’m really proud of the whole IRIS team! This is an example of EPA science at its best, and how our researchers rise to meet challenges.

Last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke before the National Academies about how important science is to the Agency. She noted that the Academies has been the gold standard for quality science and referred to the tough love they sometimes deliver to EPA that makes us stronger.

“With science as our North Star,” she explained, “EPA has steered America away from health risks, and towards healthier communities and a higher overall quality of life.” IRIS has been a big part of that story, but back in 2011, it was the subject of some of that “tough love” NRC delivered.

It was hard to hear at the time, but we knew it was especially important since IRIS assessments play a big role in the Agency’s work to protect public health. While IRIS has always been a science-based program, the NRC told us we needed to improve. We heard that message loud and clear, and we took their advice to heart. The IRIS team put in a lot of hard work over the past few years, and it has paid off!

The Academies spent the last two years reviewing IRIS. Their report, released today, highlights how far the program has come since 2011. “Overall,” the committee wrote, “the changes that EPA has proposed and implemented to various degrees constitute substantial improvements in the IRIS process.”

IRIS has changed a lot in just a few years. Our newest assessments now address most of the NRC’s 2011 recommendations. And the report they released today confirms that we’ve made terrific progress. Part of this progress came through a series of IRIS enhancements we released last year. These changes are helping us create more scientifically sound assessments.

We’ve also greatly improved transparency and public access to the process – efforts the NRC applauded. We meet with our stakeholders regularly now, and we have robust discussions about the science. We put our science out in the public domain very early in the process of developing an assessment. We have workshops where we bring the scientific community together to talk about science issues important to assessing the health risks of chemicals. Science and transparency are the drumbeat to which IRIS now marches.

The NRC gave us some recommendations to take IRIS to the next level. We will follow their advice and continue to get better and demonstrate that science truly is our North Star.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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