Release of Chemical Assessments Blocked by EPA

An investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that, in early June 2018, staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were ordered not to release documents relating to chemical assessments. The order was given by EPA officials to staff working in the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program which develops human health toxicity assessments of chemicals. At the time of the order, IRIS program staff were assessing at least 22 chemicals. The staff were told not to release any documents relating to the assessments “without a formal request . . . from the current leadership of a program office.”

Program office leaders were subsequently asked to confirm which ongoing chemical assessments their offices needed. They were also asked to provide a “prioritized list of assessments” that included “no more than three to four chemicals.” Based on the responses received, in December 2018, EPA leadership issued a memorandum directing IRIS program staff to develop assessments for 11 chemicals. According to GAO:

“This was a reduction of the program’s workflow from 22 assessments, but the memorandum announcing the reduced workshop gave no reason for the reduction. The memorandum accompanying the list of 11 chemicals gave no indication of when more assessments could be requested or if IRIS’s workflow would remain at 11 chemicals for the foreseeable future.”

Later in December 2018, the IRIS program released an outlook of program activities, which included two additional assessments that were out for public comment at the time the memorandum was issued. The outlook did not, however, include other assessments that were in the late stages of development. For example, it did not list an assessment of formaldehyde, for which documentation had already been drafted and was ready to be released for public comment. It is not clear whether or not EPA will continue work on that assessment. GAO expressed concern that delaying the assessment could cause “work that has been completed [to] become outdated.”