National Academies’ report shows that EPA has strengthened IRIS program

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.


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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Team Dioxin – an Award Winning Group!

By Elizabeth Erwin

"Team Dioxin"

“Team Dioxin”

About three years ago, I came to EPA and joined the communications team in the organization that manages EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program (a human health assessment program that evaluates the health effects of exposure to environmental chemicals). I heard various chemical names mentioned all the time, but it seemed as if one in particular was mentioned more often than others—dioxin.

I quickly learned that EPA has a long history with dioxin, a highly toxic, persistent environmental chemical known to cause a number of adverse health effects.  For years, EPA and other federal agencies worked together to reduce known and measurable dioxin emissions in the United States.

In February 2012, EPA reached an enormous milestone by completing the long-awaited IRIS assessment for dioxin (focused on health effects other than cancer). The assessment provides much needed information on the potential noncancer health effects resulting from exposure to dioxin and, for the first time, an estimate of the amount of dioxin that one can ingest daily over a lifetime that is not likely to cause harmful health effects (the “oral reference dose”).

The assessment is an essential component of the Agency’s dioxin science plan as risk assessors, health professionals, and state, local, and international governments rely on its findings to guide decisions to protect public health.

This month, the team responsible for completing the dioxin assessment received some well-deserved recognition. On May 8 EPA’s “Team Dioxin” received a Federal Service Excellence Project Team Award. Team Dioxin includes Hisham El-Masri, Belinda Hawkins, Glenn Rice, Jeffrey Swartout, Linda Teuschler, Scott Wesselkamper, Michael Wright, and Bette Zwayer.

In 2009, this team of scientists was tasked with completing the dioxin assessment on an expedited schedule. Meeting this challenge placed them under intense pressure and required countless sacrifices, but at every turn they met the challenge.

“In order to meet the aggressive schedule outlined by [former] EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, the team sacrificed time with family because they understood the significance of their work to the American people” explains Annette Gatchett, Director of NCEA’s Cincinnati branch where the dioxin team is headquartered.

Indeed, the team spent months pouring over the extensive, complex, and controversial science that exists on dioxin, evaluating over 1,000 published epidemiology and toxicology studies and analyzing numerous data sets on a variety of adverse health outcomes attributed to dioxin exposures.

Despite the sacrifices, the team’s effort was worth it. “Working on EPA’s dioxin report was extremely interesting and rewarding,” says Glenn Rice, one of the lead authors of the assessment. “Over the many nights and weekends of working on the project, I developed a sincere and deep appreciation for the expertise, dedication and senses of humor of my collaborators.”

Completing the IRIS assessment for dioxin (non-cancer) is an incredible achievement, one that I am grateful to have been at EPA to witness. Without a doubt, achievements such as Team Dioxin’s embody the Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment and make me proud to come to work each day.

About the author: Elizabeth Erwin is a member of EPA’s science communication team where she helps make IRIS and other EPA science programs and assessments available and accessible.

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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