Before the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate

Statement of John Stephenson, Director
Natural Resources and Environment


Why GAO Did This Study

Biomonitoring, which measures chemicals in people’s tissues or body fluids, has shown that the U.S. population is widely exposed to chemicals used in everyday products. Some of these have the potential to cause cancer or birth defects. Moreover, children may be more vulnerable to harm from these chemicals than adults.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is authorized under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to control chemicals that pose unreasonable health risks. One crucial tool in this process is chemical risk assessment, which involves determining the extent to which populations will be exposed to a chemical and assessing how this exposure affects human health

This testimony, based on GAO’s prior work, reviews the (1) extent to which EPA incorporates information from biomonitoring studies into its assessments of chemicals, (2) steps that EPA has taken to improve the usefulness of biomonitoring data, and (3) extent to which EPA has the authority under TSCA to require chemical companies to develop and submit biomonitoring data to EPA.

EPA’s Authority to Obtain Biomonitoring Data under TSCA Is Untested and May Be Limited

… Confusion over the scope of EPA’s authority to collect biomonitoring data under section 8 (e) is highlighted by the history leading up to an EPA action against the chemical company E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont). Until 2000, DuPont used the chemical PFOA to make Teflon®. In 1981, DuPont took blood from several female workers and two of their babies. The levels of PFOA in the babies’ blood showed that PFOA had crossed the placental barrier. DuPont also tested the blood of twelve community members, 11 of whom had elevated levels of PFOA in their blood. DuPont did not report either set of results to EPA. After EPA received the results from a third party, DuPont argued that the information was not reportable under TSCA because the mere presence of PFOA in blood did not itself support the conclusion that exposure to PFOA posed any health risks. EPA subsequently filed two actions against DuPont for violating section 8(e) of TSCA by failing to report the biomonitoring data, among other claims. DuPont settled the claims but did not admit that it should have reported the data. However, based on the data it had received, EPA conducted a subsequent risk assessment, which contributed to a finding that PFOA was “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” In turn, this finding contributed to an agreement by DuPont and others to phase out the use of PFOA by 2015. However, EPA’s authority to obtain biomonitoring data under section 8(e) of TSCA remains untested in court…