EPA’s Path Forward for the Integrated Risk Information System Program

By Becki Clark

EPA has a lot to be proud of.  Today, we all enjoy cleaner air, water and land because of actions taken by EPA over the past 40 years.  One thing that I’m personally proud of is EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System Program, or IRIS, and the changes we are making in the Program.

IRIS assessments are not regulations or full risk assessments, but the information they contain about the potential human health effects from long-term exposure to chemicals provides an important part of the foundation for decisions made to protect the health of all Americans.

In April 2011, the National Research Council (NRC) gave EPA some recommendations for improving the development of IRIS assessments, and we are working hard to implement them.  At first, we focused on editing and streamlining documents.  We are now in the next phase of our work, and we will soon release two draft assessments that represent a major advancement for the Program in implementing the recommendations.

For anyone who is familiar with IRIS assessments, the changes we’ve made will be immediately apparent.  Assessments will look different because we are using a new document structure that is more streamlined, concise and clear. However, the changes are far from just cosmetic.  In fact, the IRIS Program is fundamentally changing the way we develop assessments – from the way we select and evaluate the quality of studies, weigh the overall evidence of each effect, and select studies for deriving toxicity values.

EPA recently announced that the National Academy of Sciences would conduct a review of the IRIS assessment development process and the changes being made in the Program.  They will also convene a workshop on weight of evidence and recommend approaches to EPA.  The NAS’ feedback will help guide us as we continue to improve IRIS assessments.  Additionally, the results of the weight of evidence workshop will help us develop or adopt a formal weight of evidence framework for health effects other than cancer.

I’m proud to be a part of IRIS, because it plays a significant role in protecting the health of our country’s citizens.  I believe that a strong, scientifically rigorous IRIS Program is of critical importance. That’s why I am committed to making the changes recommended by the NRC.  I am excited about these changes, and I think you will be pleased when you see the results.  My staff and I will continue to pursue excellence in the IRIS Program, using the most up-to-date science in support of EPA’s mission to protect the health of the American public.

About the Author:  Becki Clark is the Acting Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

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