EPA National Center for Environmental Research

Moving Away From “High Risk”

By Lou D’Amico, Ph.D. and Samantha Jones, Ph.D.

 

IRIS graphic identifierYesterday the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released their biennial High Risk Report, which lists government functions and operations identified as needing attention by Congress and the Executive Branch. EPA’s IRIS Program is on the list along with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) under the broader area, Transforming EPA’s Processes for Assessing and Controlling Toxic Chemicals. For the first time, GAO has provided ratings in five criteria to help programs gauge their progress in resolving the high risk designation.

GAO found that, specific to the IRIS Program, EPA has:

  • Met, a demonstrated commitment to, and top leadership support for, addressing problems;
  • Partially met, the development of a corrective action plan;
  • Partially met, instituting a program to monitor corrective measures;
  • Not met, demonstrating progress in implementing corrective measures; and
  • Not met, demonstrating the capacity to address problems.

We think this report shows improvement while acknowledging that there is more to do. The recommendations received from GAO, the National Research Council (NRC), and our Scientific Advisory Board Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee (SAB CAAC) provide important ongoing feedback and a framework through which EPA will ensure, as part of a multiyear process, that the IRIS Program produces timely, transparent, and high-quality scientific assessments.

As GAO noted, EPA’s leadership has reaffirmed the importance of the IRIS Program. In the coming weeks and months, you’ll hear more about IRIS activities that address issues raised by the GAO. An important one will be the IRIS multi-year plan, which reflects a reprioritization of the chemicals on the IRIS agenda to best meet Agency needs. Also, soon-to-be announced workshops will allow scientists in the IRIS Program to benefit from in-depth scientific discussions that directly inform ongoing work in our assessments.

The IRIS Program has taken a number of steps to strengthen, streamline, and clarify the science presented in our assessments. To increase capacity in an ever-changing environment, the IRIS Program has restructured the process for developing assessments, including the use of workgroups that bring together individuals with common expertise by scientific discipline (e.g., neurotoxicity), to evaluate a specific hazard. We’ve also recently implemented an executive review committee to ensure that scientific decisions are discussed by a greater number of senior scientists and managers within EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, and to maintain quality and consistency across assessments.

Demonstrating progress is the criterion that presents a significant challenge to IRIS. The number of posted final assessments is only one measure of progress. In recent years, the same staff and managers that work on assessments have also been implementing recommendations from the GAO and NRC. One of those recommendations, adopting systematic review methodologies, is an ongoing effort. In the coming months, the public will see new sections of the IRIS Handbook, including a collection of the procedures and protocols we’ll use to implement systematic review in the IRIS Program. It is also important to advance chemicals at every stage of the IRIS process. Since 2013, IRIS has held bimonthly public science meetings on 12 chemicals under assessment. Finally, it’s important to consider the impact of these assessments. How should the IRIS Program balance the completion of complex assessments with widespread interest (which require greater resources and time) with those that may present fewer challenges and have comparatively less interest, but still have important public health impacts? The recently finalized IRIS assessment of Libby Amphibole Asbestos is only one assessment, but the impact to other federal and state agencies, and local communities is significant. Regardless of the metrics, the IRIS Program is committed to increasing productivity to meet the needs of the Agency and the public.

The independent reviews provided by the GAO and SAB CAAC, as well as the recent NRC review of the IRIS process, have validated a number of the steps taken by the IRIS Program. We will continue to evolve and we hope that stakeholders will continue to share their opinions with us – either in the comments sections of blog posts, on the IRIS general comments docket, or at some of our public meetings and workshops. We want to hear from you!

About the Authors: Lou D’Amico is the Acting Communications Director for NCEA. Samantha Jones is the Associate Director for Science in the IRIS Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Clean Cookstoves Research: An Opportunity to Benefit Billions

By Bryan Bloomer, Ph.D.

I have long appreciated the ability to cook and heat my home with minimum risk of exposure to toxic indoor air pollution. But I am also painfully aware that more than 3 billion people around the world rely on inefficient, unsustainable and dangerous cookstove technologies for their everyday cooking, heating and lighting needs.

Display of clean cookstoves.

EPA’s Bryan Bloomer examines clean-burning prototypes at the Cookstoves Future Summit in New York City.

That is why I am so pleased to join EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other prominent leaders this week at the first ever ministerial- and CEO-level Cookstoves Future Summit, “Fueling Markets, Catalyzing Action, Changing Lives,” in New York City.

Traditional cookstoves typically burn biomass fuels such as wood, dung, crop residues, charcoal or the fossil fuel, coal. This causes a wide range of negative health effects to the people, primarily women and children, exposed to the smoke they emit. And there’s more. The use of traditional cookstove technologies also depletes natural resources, contributes to deforestation, and releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere that contribute to climate change at regional and global scales.

This is why clean cookstoves research is a top EPA priority. Our goal is to transform the sustainability and health impacts of the energy infrastructure in ways that will not only improve the health of billions, most of them disadvantaged women and children, but improve the global environment as well.

We conduct and support cooperative research to identify gaps and deliver practical solutions from a wide array of stakeholders. The Agency is leading an international clean cookstove research effort, helping to support the development of international cookstove standards, conducting trusted independent research on the energy efficiency and emissions of cookstoves, and improving our understanding of the negative health impacts from exposure to cookstove smoke.

In March 2012, EPA announced the funding of six universities to address residential burning and its effects on human health worldwide. This group of researchers is developing innovative technologies to quantify the impacts of cookstove emissions on climate and air quality.

Moving forward, we and our many partners in this global effort will focus on translating these results into the field, primarily bringing innovative, consumer-driven and life-saving technologies to individuals worldwide.

Turning research results into welcomed solutions is the topic of this week’s Cookstoves Future Summit. The summit presents a unique opportunity to further develop a thriving and sustainable clean cookstove market. Such a market will mean substantial progress toward preventing the more than 4 million estimated indoor air pollution related deaths due to traditional cookstoves and fuels.

The clean cookstoves challenge encompasses a number of health, social and environmental issues. Such a pressing and compelling problem presents us with a significant opportunity to improve livelihoods, empower women and protect the environment for generations to come.

About the Author: Dr. Bryan Bloomer is the director of the Applied Science Division at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. He works with grant managers that support scientists and engineers through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program, to improve EPA’s scientific basis for decision on air, climate, water and energy issues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.