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EPA Control of Toxic Chemicals on Lawmakers' New High Risk List
WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2009 (ENS) - The assessment and control of toxic chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was today added to the list of federal government programs, policies, and operations at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or in need of broad-based transformation.

The list is updated every two years and released at the start of each new Congress by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to help in setting oversight agendas.

Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO, released the 2009 list at a bipartisan briefing on Capitol Hill with leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Also added to the High Risk List are the regulatory system governing U.S. financial institutions and markets and the Food and Drug Administration's oversight of medical products.

At the same time, Dodaro said, enough progress has been made to remove one item from the list - the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control modernization.

These changes result in 30 government programs and operations on GAO's 2009 High-Risk List.

Testing chemicals in a contract lab (Photo courtesy Validation Laboratories Inc)

"The three areas added to this year's High-Risk List are all vital to the public's well being," Dodaro said. "It's clear that basic changes are needed to how the federal government regulates the financial system, oversees medical products, and assesses and controls toxic chemicals."

"I am hopeful that the inclusion of these issues will lead to greater scrutiny and spur needed reforms," he said.

EPA's ability to protect public health and the environment depends on credible and timely assessments of the risks posed by toxic chemicals. Its Integrated Risk Information System, which contains assessments of more than 500 toxic chemicals, is at serious risk of becoming obsolete because EPA has been unable to keep its existing assessments current or to complete assessments of important chemicals of concern, according to the GAO.

Overall, EPA has finished only nine assessments in the past three years. At the end of 2007, most of the 70 ongoing assessments had been underway for more than five years.

EPA urgently needs to streamline and increase the transparency of this assessment process, the GAO says.

The agency also requires additional authority than that currently provided in the Toxics Substance Control Act to obtain health and safety information from the chemical industry and to shift more of the burden to chemical companies to demonstrate the safety of their products.

Overall, the EPA is not the government department that appears most often on the GAO's High Risk List.

"The Department of Defense continues to dominate the High Risk List," Dodaro said. "The military's lack of progress is of growing concern to GAO. DOD owns eight areas on the High Risk List outright, and it shares government wide responsibility for an additional seven areas."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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