The scientist hired in the Obama administration’s twilight to revitalize U.S. EPA’s troubled Integrated Risk Information System could soon find herself forced to shutter the chemical-testing effort she’s been battling to save.
Kristina Thayer’s program — known by its acronym, IRIS — is unpopular with the chemical industry, its allies on Capitol Hill and the Trump administration. The omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal 2018 set for release tonight is expected to slash or entirely end funding for IRIS.
Thayer recalled her late-November 2016 arrival at EPA in a recent interview.
“I knew after the election that this might be a challenging time to come to EPA,” she said.
The former National Institutes of Health scientist spoke to E&E News on the sidelines last month of a high-profile review of IRIS by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Thayer and public health advocates hope that review might serve as a lifeline for the endangered program.
Thayer and other IRIS backers might have initially drawn some encouragement from EPA’s claims that enhanced chemical safety fits with Administrator Scott Pruitt’s “back to basics” agenda.
But EPA’s actions since then suggest otherwise.
The agency has moved to close its National Center for Environmental Research and held up draft regulations on chemicals like trichloroethylene, a dry-cleaning solvent that IRIS has found is carcinogenic to humans and can lead to developmental and immune system problems (E&E News PM, Dec. 14, 2017).
Meanwhile, the funding bill that Congress must pass by midnight Friday to avert a government shutdown poses an existential threat to IRIS. A bill released by Senate appropriators last November would zero-out IRIS’s annual budget of just less than $22 million.
That Senate spending package for environmental agencies — now under consideration as part of the must-pass omnibus — would also shift responsibility for chemical assessments from EPA’s Office of Research and Development to the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. The top political official in the chemical safety office is Nancy Beck, a former executive at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group (Greenwire, Nov. 21, 2017).
The chemical assessment program and its 30 full-time staffers have long been housed in the agency’s R&D arm, EPA’s website explains, because “it ensures that IRIS can develop impartial toxicity information independent of its use by EPA’s program and regional offices.”
… Thayer believes her background has well prepared her to face the challenges industry opposition or Pruitt’s deregulatory focus may bring to IRIS.
That’s in part due to the more than a decade she spent at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). During her time there, she studied the health effects of widely used compounds like fluoride and bisphenol A, or BPA.
“I’m not new to the game of coming up with conclusions on controversial chemicals where not everybody is happy with the results,” said Thayer.
At NIEHS, Thayer also became an expert in systemic reviews. The process had long been used in clinical medicine and drug trials, but it was relatively new to the field of environmental health when Thayer began working on it…
*Read the full article online at https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060076739