risk assessment

Strengthening IRIS: Cultivating Broad Scientific Input

By Louis D’Amico, Ph.D.

IRIS graphic identifierAs a scientist in EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program, I am routinely faced with the task of evaluating evidence to determine if a chemical may cause a toxic effect. Developing chemical health assessments involves evaluating complex, sometimes controversial scientific issues that may lead to differing opinions about the interpretation of the data. That’s why the IRIS Program has always relied on engagement with the larger scientific community, through public comment and peer review, to support the development of our assessments.

Last year, EPA announced several enhancements to improve the productivity and quality of IRIS assessments, including holding regular bimonthly public science meetings. This gives the scientists who develop IRIS assessments the opportunity to engage with the public and the scientific community on topics throughout the development of an assessment. However, we want to ensure that we are hearing scientific perspectives from a diversity of experts in open, public, and transparent ways during assessment development. As the National Research Council (NRC) 2014 report on the IRIS Process indicated, some stakeholders may not have the staff, organizational, or other resources to provide comments or detailed scientific input. The NRC report recommended that EPA continue with additional efforts to ensure that the full breadth of perspectives are made available to the Agency when discussing the IRIS process and specific IRIS assessments.

IRIS meeting in a large conference room

EPA holds regular public IRIS meetings.

To broaden the input the IRIS Program receives at our bimonthly meetings, EPA has asked the National Research Council to identify additional scientific experts to join in our discussions. The public will continue to have the same opportunity to participate as discussants that they had before. If you want to participate as a discussant, you simply need to indicate that when registering for the meeting. Experts identified by the National Research Council, reviewed for conflict of interest and bias, will participate as discussants in their own capacity to contribute intellectual leadership to discussions on critical scientific issues. The final determination of who serves as an expert participant is made independently by the National Research Council.

Bringing more scientific minds to the table will only strengthen our assessments by encouraging a more robust discussion. Ultimately it’s not the number of participants expressing an opinion, but the scientific validity of their positions. Hearing multiple perspectives on how to interpret science issues will help my colleagues and I better address and incorporate those issues and perspectives into our assessments prior to expert peer review. Moving forward, I am looking forward to future discussions on the science at our bimonthly meetings and encourage you to join the continuing discussion on the evolution of the IRIS Program.

About the Author: Louis D’Amico, P.h.D. is the Acting Communications Director for the National Center for Environmental Assessment. He joined EPA five years ago and has a doctorate in Biology.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA Takes Important Step in Assessing Chemical Risk

Earlier today, EPA made public a final risk assessment on a number of uses of the chemical, Trichloroethylene, or TCE, as it is more commonly known. The risk assessment indicated health risks from TCE to consumers using spray aerosol degreasers and spray fixatives used for artwork. It can pose harm to workers when TCE is used as a degreaser in small commercial shops and as a stain remover in dry cleaners. It has been more than 28 years since we last issued a final risk assessment for an existing chemical.

EPA conducted the TCE risk assessment as part of a broader effort to begin assessing chemicals and chemical uses that may pose a concern to human health and the environment under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA is this country’s 38-year old chemicals management legislation, which is badly in need of modernization

More

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

National Academies’ Report Shows that EPA has Strengthened IRIS Program

Reposted from EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership.

By Lek Kadeli

Portrait of Lek KadeliOne 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.

Read the rest of the post.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Release the Data! New Chemical Data, Workshops, and Challenges

By Matthew T. Martin

Scientist prepares a well-plate for high-throughput screening.

Scientist preparing a well-plate for high-throughput screening.

Ever open that cabinet under the kitchen sink, grab that bright blue bottle of window cleaner and wonder exactly what sort of chemicals are floating around in it? Many of you have at one time or another, and for those of you who have never given it a second thought rest assured that my colleagues and I at EPA are dedicated to identifying and categorizing all of the chemicals we might be exposed to on any given day. However, due the expensive, time-consuming process of traditional testing, which assesses one chemical at a time, only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of chemicals currently in commerce have been adequately assessed for potential human and environmental health risks.

To close this data gap and better evaluate potential health risks, we have worked hard in recent years to accelerate the pace of chemical testing. I am proud to say that we have now completed phase two of the multi-year Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast) project and are publically releasing ToxCast data on 1,800 chemicals evaluated in over 700 high-throughput screening assays. This is a significant accomplishment that we want to share with the scientific community.

The new data is accessible through the new interactive Chemical Safety for Sustainability (iCSS) Dashboard, a web-based application for users to access and interact with the data freely at their own discretion. Users can select the chemicals and data of interest and then score the information to help inform chemical safety decisions.

As part of the data release, I hope the scientific community will take advantage of this new windfall of data and become involved in the ToxCast project by participating in the Predictive Toxicology Challenges. The first two challenges of the series, available through TopCoder and InnoCentive crowd sourcing technology, will ask the scientific and technology community to develop new algorithms to predict lowest effect levels (LELs) of chemicals using the new ToxCast data. Winners will receive monetary prizes to help fund their own planned research, and their solutions will help us determine innovative ways to use ToxCast data to inform decisions made about the chemical safety.

Also, beginning January 14,we are also hosting several stakeholder outreach workshops and webinars to address potential challenges with data translation, accessibility, and any other troubleshooting issues that might arise during the initial data launch. This is an opportunity for the scientific community to provide input on data usage and offer immediate feedback about the new data and the iCSS dashboard.

About the author: Matthew T. Martin is a research biologist within EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology, where he is part of the ToxCast team and leads the CSS task for developing predictive models of toxicity using high-throughput screening data. He also serves as the project lead for developing the new CSS Dashboard Web Application.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA’s Continuing Effort to Reduce Lead Exposure

Three images in a line: child and adult hands together, lake shore, lead from periodic table.By Ellen Kirrane

As a kid growing up in the 1970s, I can remember my mom pulling up to the filling station and asking for “regular” gasoline.  At the time, I didn’t realize what this meant, but as I got older I found out that “regular” gasoline had lead in it; the other option – “unleaded” gas – did not.

Now, as a scientist working for EPA, I have a true appreciation for what lead is and how the next generation of kids can benefit from living in an environment that is cleaner because “regular” gasoline is no longer the norm.

By removing lead from gasoline and tightening industrial emissions standards, EPA has drastically reduced lead air emissions in the U.S.; they declined by more than two orders of magnitude (100 times) between 1970 and 2008.  But even with such important progress, by 2008 scientists realized that it was not enough, and that a young child’s cognitive function could be impacted by much lower lead exposures than previously understood. Supported with such science, EPA lowered its National Ambient Air Quality Standard for lead tenfold.

In June 2013, EPA released its most recent review of the science on the health and ecological effects of lead. Scientists who study lead consider it one of the “dirtiest” chemicals because it affects so many different systems in the body.  It does this by interfering with molecules called “ions.” When lead exposure affects ion status in the cells, it disrupts how calcium is regulated and how proteins are used for essential bodily functions.  This can lead to a wide array of health and ecological effects.

In children, lead exposure can cause IQ reductions and decreased academic performance. Lead can also cause behavioral changes in children, have harmful effects on blood cells and blood producing organs, and may cause decreased auditory and motor function, as well as immune effects.  Some of these effects may be irreversible and there is no evidence of a threshold below which scientists can be confident that there are no harmful cognitive effects from lead exposure. In adults, long-term lead exposure can cause increased blood pressure and hypertension, lead to coronary heart disease and affect many other organ systems. Just as lead can harm humans, it can also harm animals and other organisms that live on land and in the water by reducing survival, growth and reproduction, as well as affecting behavior, development and blood producing organs.

In addition to setting standards for lead in air, EPA continues to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of lead through a variety of programs.  EPA’s assessment of the science on the health and ecological effects of lead underpins these efforts. I am proud to be part of an agency that’s been working for four decades to keep lead out of our air, water, and soil.

To find out more about what EPA is doing to protect the American public from lead exposure, visit the Agency’s lead website at http://www2.epa.gov/lead.

About the Author:  Ellen Kirrane is an epidemiologist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment. She works on Integrated Science Assessments, which form the scientific basis for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

 

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA-Expo-Box: A Novel Innovation for Risk Assessors

By Dahnish Shams

Illustration of a toolbox

Click on the image to go to the EPA-Expo-Box website.

As a college student, I always found Wikipedia to be one of the simplest, yet most innovative resources created in the last decade. Wikipedia’s ability to compile and aggregate different information in a single spot on the internet makes it a unique web resource to accomplish any number of tasks across a wide variety of disciplines and settings.

Now—post graduation and working as a student contractor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development—I’ve found out that EPA scientists have developed their own innovative, encyclopedia-like resource for exposure assessment information. Links to databases, models, guidance documents and other resources are organized by topics such as exposure assessment approaches, chemical classes, environmental media, routes of exposure, life stages and populations, and more.

This new website, EPA-Expo-Box (short for EPA Exposure Toolbox), has compiled links to more than 800 exposure assessment tools all in one user-friendly format.

For example, imagine a scientist examining an outdoor air or water pollutant. This scientist could use EPA-Expo-Box’s Media Tool Set to help identify information needed to assess how this pollutant may be interacting with the environment, and tools needed to estimate exposures among the people who may come into contact with the air or water. This scientist could access resources on potential sources, fate and transport, or measured concentrations of the chemical in the air or water. With 800+ resources readily in hand, risk assessors can make informed scientific decisions to better protect the public and the environment from harm.

Prior to EPA-Expo-Box, there were no comprehensive publicly available resource for exposure assessment tools and information.  Recognizing this need, EPA scientists set out to design an online “one stop shop” for   resources that an exposure assessor may need. This free resource fills a specific niche in the risk assessment community. As an interactive scientific resource, it contains links to databases, models, guidance documents, and reference materials, along with step-by-step assistance for conducting exposure assessments to help guide users through the exposure assessment process.

Because it is completely online, users can access all of the tool sets at the touch of a button on their laptop, tablet, or smartphone. This versatility gives EPA scientists and others access to exposure assessment information regardless if they are in the field or in a laboratory. Like any good resource, EPA-Expo-Box is simply a handy tool to have when you need it most.

The other advantage of an online-only platform?  When new resources become available, updates can be made quickly and easily. No longer will users have to wait for the next edition or version to get the most up to date information. The dynamic nature of EPA-Expo-Box is increasingly crucial in the ever changing field of risk and exposure assessment.

Day in and day out, it is versatile and dynamic innovations like EPA-Expo-Box that better help EPA and others access information they need to more effectively evaluate potential risks to human health and the environment in the communities in which we all live and work.

About the Author: Dahnish Shams is a student services contractor working with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment in communications.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Teaching Risk Assessment in Cairo, Egypt

by Abdel Kadry, John Vandenberg, and Ila Cote

My colleagues and I were delighted to respond to an invitation from Professor Dr. Osama El-Tawil, the Chairman of Toxicology & Forensic Medicine Department, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Cairo University, to provide an international training course on risk assessment. We arrived in Cairo on May 16, 2012.

Over the next three days, we offered comprehensive training on current, state-of-the-art risk assessment practices as used and implemented by EPA and various international organizations. The course is titled “Risk Assessment as a Critical Tool for Everyday Challenges.”

More than 300 men and women from throughout the Middle East attended the training. The course offered hands on training in the primary areas of risk assessment (i.e., hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, risk characterization). Additionally, we covered risk communication, because outreach to the public and other stakeholders is essential to the successful implementation of risk assessment.

Throughout the course, there were discussions of real environmental and public health problems experienced in the country. Students had the opportunity to apply skills learned in class to these problems in several small breakout sessions. In addition to learning about risk assessment, the participants formed new friendships and extended their professional networks.

The course also attracted a large number of newspapers and TV stations. This training represents a culmination of knowledge sharing among science experts in the field of risk assessment. (For more information about the course go to: EPA Risk Assessment Class at Cairo University.)

It was such great opportunity to meet the leadership team of Cairo University, especially: Professor Dr. Prof Hossam Kamel, President of Cairo University; Professor Dr. Azz Eldin Abostat, Vice President of Students Affairs, Cairo University and Professor of Agriculture Science; Professor Dr. Gamal El-Din Essmat, Vice President for higher studies, Cairo University; Professor Dr. Heba Nassar, Vice President for Environmental and Society Services, Cairo University; and Professor Dr. Fathy Farouk, the Dean of  the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Cairo University.

On Sunday, we were invited by the Dean of the Veterinary School to tour Cairo University (home to 250,000 students), meet the faculty and discuss their research. We visited the famous library of Cairo University, the veterinary clinic, microbiology laboratories, and the latest incineration facility in Cairo University, which is charged with sanitary disposal of infectious biologic materials.

About the Authors:  John Vandenberg, Division Director; Ila Cote, Senior Science Advisor; and Abdel Kadry, Senior Advisor for Scientific Organizational Development and International Activities in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Sharing EPA Knowledge 7,000 Miles Away

By Abdel Kadry and Ila Cote

With an invitation from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh, two of my colleagues and I traveled to Saudi Arabia last month to provide risk assessment training to Saudi and other scientists in Riyadh and to participate in a scientific dialogue with Saudi government officials and others on the Global Methane Initiative.

Dr. John Vandenberg

For three days, we represented the United States in the Saudi International Environmental Technology Conference 2012, which was organized under the patronage of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the King of the Saudi Arabia. The conference was at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), an independent scientific organization that encompasses both the Saudi Arabian National Science Agency and its National Laboratories.

KACST plays a pivotal role in the development of the National Science, Technology and Innovation policy and leads 62 government agencies and over 190 national programs and related projects for the development of the Kingdom’s strategic technologies. KACST also funds more than 400 independent research projects annually and acts as the Kingdom’s patent office.

The conference we attended hosted a large gathering of researchers, investors, decision makers and those interested in developing environmental technology. One goal was to facilitate achieving the priorities of the Saudi National Strategy for Environmental Technology.

The conference was organized around three main tracks:

  1. Air pollution and air quality.
  2. Waste & soil contamination & remediation.
  3. Climate change impacts and solutions.

My colleague, John Vandenberg, provided the plenary talk, and our team of three EPA scientists offered risk assessment training for the entire third day of the three day conference. Our training focused on the principles and application of risk assessment.

Dr. Ila Coate

We structured the training to include lectures combined with case studies, with a lot of time allotted to discussing the case studies.

We had excellent attendance and the participants were very engaged in the course material.  We also had the pleasure of meeting Saudi officials such as His Highness Dr. Turki AL Saud, the KACST vice president, who expressed considerable appreciation for the important international role that EPA plays in protecting human health and the environment. The team was also very proud that Dr. Ila Cote, who, as the only female speaker in the conference, provided much inspiration for the Saudi female scientists.

About the Authors:

Abdel Kadry is the Senior Advisor for Scientific Organizational Development and International Activities in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA).  Abdel has organized a series of international risk assessment training activities for NCEA, with a focus on developing countries.  Ila Cote, Senior Science Advisor in NCEA, and John Vandenberg, Director of the Research Triangle Park Division of NCEA, accompanied Abdel to Saudi Arabia to provide risk assessment training last month.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Risk Assessment, or Not, by Juror 6

By Larry Teller

It’s fascinating if sometimes confounding to see how people perceive health risks and then act on their beliefs, especially when there’s a big disparity in how rationally they deal with, or manage, varying risks. Take, for example, my experience these past few weeks while on jury duty, which I wouldn’t report to you if it weren’t so common.

Juries spend many hours together both in the courtroom and, unfortunately at least as long, in a jury room. With the way we’ve been more aware of contagious infections lately, I wasn’t surprised to see a fellow juror whip out, on day 1 (of 8 days—it was a murder trial) a bottle of spray disinfectant and shpritz the crowded jury room pretty thoroughly. “But why not?” I thought, “It wouldn’t hurt.” — until Juror 6 (real names weren’t used much for the duration) sprayed us for the third time that first day.

My amazement came three days and eight shpritzes later, when the judge was scheduling a recess. To accommodate them, she asked if there were any smokers among us—who would need a longer break to go outside, light up and return. Whose hand went up? Yes, Juror 6, our repeat germophobe. As my dear, generous mother would say, we’ve all got our mishigoss (nuttiness, nonsense).

On a much grander scale, EPA assesses and manages risk in setting standards, writing regulations and cleaning contamination. I’d like to hear from some remediation managers and on-scene coordinators about how they deal with the less rational among us who understand risk about as clearly as Juror 6.

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, many as a reservist, gave him a different look at government service.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.