Concerns were raised by one senator that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – a body that helps President prepare the federal budget - was trying to stifle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inquiry to overhaul the way potentially dangerous substances are scrutinised by obliging it to rely on existing research provided by chemical companies.
Representative Edward J. Markey said the OMB had sometimes been used in the past by industry to “gut sound environmental regulations”.
In September, EPA chief Lisa Jackson unveiled sweeping plans to revamp the current system under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which she dismissed “inadequate”. Spearheading this change, Jackson said the EPA would begin evaluating half a dozen of the most high-profile chemicals that have raised concerns – including bisphenol A (BPA), found in some food packaging, and phthalates, found in cosmetics.
Markey wrote to the OMB following reports the body was trying to limit was research the EPA could use in its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program to assess the effect of this chemical on human health. The initiative was inaugurated in 1996 but was not put into motion until 2 October, 2009 - just days after Jackson’s announcement.
In response to the EPA’s request to begin collecting the information needed to assess these chemicals, OMB instructed EPA to accept “existing data” and other scientifically relevant information (OSRI) supplied by companies that manufacture these chemicals “in lieu of performing all or some” of the tests necessary to identify chemicals that have endocrine disrupting properties, said Markey, who is Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
His letter to the OMB raised questions about whether this directive was intended to prevent EPA scientists from seeking all relevant toxicological studies about these chemicals and said “such actions could put the public health at risk”.
Defer to EPA
In his reply, OMB director Peter Orszag made clear the body would defer to the EPA’s expertise to assess endocrine disruptors, saying the body “fully supports the EPA’s sole authority to make scientific decisions” on the matter.
Chairman Markey welcomed the assurance and continued: "In some previous administrations, OMB has at times been used by industry opponents to try and gut sound environmental regulations under the rubric of 'paperwork reduction’. I am encouraged by Director Orszag's statement that he recognizes the need to have a robust testing program to determine the nature of the risks that endocrine disrupting chemicals pose to human health."