GAO Releases Recommendations for EPA IRIS

Challenges remain with EPA's Integrated Risk Information System Program.

Published on: Jan 10, 2012

Revisions to the Environmental Protection Agency's Integrated Risk Information System have allowed the agency to regain control of the process while increasing transparency. EPA has addressed concerns the Government Accountability Office raised and now makes the determination of when to move an assessment to external peer review and issuance - decisions that were made by the Office of Management and Budget under the prior IRIS process.

EPA faces both long-standing and new challenges in implementing the IRIS program. Beyond the 55 ongoing IRIS assessments, the backlog of demand for additional IRIS assessments is unclear. With existing resources devoted to addressing its current workload of ongoing assessments, EPA has not been in a position to routinely start new assessments.

GAO was asked to evaluate (1) EPA's progress in completing IRIS assessments under the May 2009 process and (2) the challenges, if any, that EPA faces in implementing the IRIS program. To do this work, GAO reviewed and analyzed EPA productivity data, among other things, and interviewed EPA officials.

GAO recommends, among other things, that EPA assess the feasibility of the established time frames for each step in the IRIS assessment process and make changes if necessary, submit for independent review to an entity with scientific and technical credibility a plan for how EPA will implement the National Academies' suggestions, and ensure that current and accurate information on chemicals that EPA plans to assess through IRIS is available to IRIS users. EPA agreed with GAO's recommendations and noted specific actions it will take to implement them.

EPA announced that it planned to respond to the National Academies' suggestions by implementing changes to the way it develops draft IRIS assessments. Given that many of the issues raised by the National Academies have been long-standing, it is unclear whether any entity with scientific and technical credibility, such as an EPA advisory committee, will have a role in conducting an independent review of EPA's planned response to the suggestions.