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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on December 21, 2022, that it seeks public nominations of scientific and technical experts whom EPA can consider for service as ad hoc reviewers assisting the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) with the peer review of two draft documents entitled “Draft Proposed Principles of Cumulative Risk Assessment Under the Toxic Substances Control Act” and “Draft Proposed Approach for Cumulative Risk Assessment of High-Priority Phthalates and a Manufacturer Requested Phthalate Under the Toxic Substance Control Act.” 87 Fed. Reg. 78103. EPA states that it will submit the two draft documents to SACC and release them for public review and comment in late February 2023. EPA will solicit comments from SACC on issues related to chemical grouping for purposes of cumulative risk assessment (CRA), health outcomes related to phthalate syndrome, and possible approaches to developing the cumulative hazard and exposure assessment for high-priority phthalates and a manufacturer-requested phthalate. EPA also announced the scheduling of a four-day virtual public meeting for SACC to consider and review the two draft documents. EPA provides the following chronological listing of the dates for the specific activities:

  • January 20, 2023 -- Deadline for submitting all nominations to EPA;
     
  • April 24, 2023 -- Deadline for submitting a request for special accommodations to allow EPA time to process the request before the meeting; and
     
  • May 8 to 11, 2023, from 10:00 a.m. to approximately 5:30 p.m. (EDT) -- The public virtual meeting will be held via a webcast platform such as “Zoom.gov” and audio teleconference, and you must register to receive the links.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
Under the Reports Consolidation Act of 2000, each agency’s inspector general must prepare an annual statement summarizing what the inspector general considers to be “the most serious management and performance challenges facing the agency” and to assess briefly the agency’s progress in addressing those challenges. On November 29, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its report regarding EPA’s fiscal year (FY) 2023 top management challenges. According to the report, the eight top management challenges for EPA in FY 2023 include:

  • Providing for the Safe Use of Chemicals: The public must be able to depend on the EPA’s ability to conduct credible and timely assessments of the risks posed by pesticides, toxic chemicals, and other environmental chemicals.

OIG states in its full report that it conducted an evaluation in 2020 of EPA’s progress toward meeting deadlines established by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Act), focusing primarily on TSCA’s existing chemicals program. OIG recommended that the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) assistant administrator publish the annual existing chemicals plan, including the anticipated implementation efforts and required resources; conduct a workforce analysis to assess the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics’ (OPPT) capability to implement TSCA; and specify what skill gaps had to be filled in FY 2021 to meet the TSCA requirements. According to OIG, on February 7, 2022, OCSPP certified that it had completed all corrective actions for the recommendations in its report. More information on OIG’s 2020 report is available in our August 18, 2020, blog item.
 
OIG notes that an audit of TSCA’s New Chemicals Review Process is currently ongoing as part of its FY 2022 Oversight Plan. According to OIG, the objective of that review is to determine the extent to which EPA is using and complying with applicable records-management and quality-assurance requirements and employee performance standards to review and approve new chemicals under TSCA to manage human health and environmental risks.
 
According to OIG, per EPA, “an increased workload and the need for resources -- especially staff trained in specific science skills -- are major factors in not being on track to meet many of the EPA’s statutory deadlines.” Citing a trade press article, OIG states that “[s]pecifically, the OCSPP stated that it does not have the resources to address statutory requirements. The OCSPP also stated that it has not received the necessary funding to complete its mission.” For example, OCSPP reports that it has approximately 310 full-time equivalent staff but estimates that it needs about 500 full-time equivalents for its mission. EPA also cited a lack of resources for its failure to post publicly the risk reports for 1,240 new chemicals.
 
In FY 2022, EPA requested an additional $15 million and 87.6 full-time equivalents -- a 35 percent increase from the FY 2021 enacted full-time equivalent level -- to meet the increased responsibilities from the Lautenberg Act. The FY 2022 enacted budget provided for 25.6 full-time equivalents for TSCA programs, however. Furthermore, according to OIG, OCSPP conducted a recent assessment that recommended that the office hire more staff, mitigate the workload to manage the workforce’s daily stress, modernize information technology (IT) systems, and eliminate the use of multiple tracking systems.
 
OIG concludes that many of the Biden Administration’s top priorities rely on the work of the OCSPP. Both EPA OIG and EPA have noted that key OCSPP programs face a steep staffing shortage and a lack of planning that could negatively impact critical chemical work, however. Absent the resources OCSPP needs for its TSCA programs, EPA “will remain challenged with meeting its statutory deadlines.” OIG states that if OCSPP is unable to balance the workload with its resource needs, EPA “will continue to face the key challenge of ensuring the safety of chemicals.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on November 9, 2022, that it awarded $7,770,044 in research grant funding to 11 institutions to develop and evaluate innovative methods and approaches to inform its understanding of the human health risks that may result from exposure to chemical mixtures in the environment. EPA states that toxicology studies have traditionally focused on the effects of single chemicals on human health. Chemicals in the environment are often present as mixtures in the air, water, soil, food, and products in commerce, however, and these chemical mixtures include per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), disinfection byproducts (DBP), and other well-characterized mixtures. According to EPA, there is a need to assess the toxicity of chemical mixtures to understand how their combined effects on human health and the environment differ from what is known about individual chemicals. Due to their lower cost and higher throughput, new approach methods (NAM) and use of alternative animal models have emerged as potential approaches to advance the risk assessment of mixtures.
 
To help address this research need, the institutions receiving these grants will conduct research focused on the development, improvement, evaluation, and integration of predictive toxicology methods to evaluate environmental chemical mixtures. The grantees and their project titles include:

  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia -- High-Throughput Lung Damage and Inflammation Assessment of Polyaromatic Hydrocarbon Mixtures;
     
  • Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina -- Developing an Integrated Framework for Evaluating Toxicity of Real-life Chemical Mixtures;
     
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana -- Protein Binding Affinity as the Driver for Studying PFAS Mixture Toxicity;
     
  • The Research Foundation of CUNY, New York, New York -- Innovative Approach to Assess the Effect of Metal Mixtures from Infant Meconium Associated with Adverse Infant Outcomes by Identifying Methylation Loci in Mothers and Infants;
     
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas -- A Tiered Hybrid Experimental-Computational Strategy for Rapid Risk Assessment of Complex Environmental Mixtures Using Novel Analytical and Toxicological Methods;
     
  • University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York -- Assessment of Neurotoxicity of Mixtures of PFAS and Other Neuroactive Organic Pollutants through Integrated in Silico, in Vitro Cellular, and in Vivo Models;
     
  • University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., Athens, Georgia -- Development of a Quantitative Adverse Outcome Pathway Network to Assess Neurodevelopmental Toxicity of PFAS Mixture in C. Elegans;
     
  • University of Houston, Houston, Texas -- Oral Toxicity Assessment of PAH Mixtures Using an in Vitro 3D Cell Culture Bioreactor Mimicking the in Vivo Intestinal Tract Environment;
     
  • University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, Massachusetts -- Whole Animal New Approach Methodologies for Predicting Developmental Effects of Air Pollutant Mixtures;
     
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina -- Wildfire Smoke Mixtures Toxicity Testing; and
     
  • Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan -- Assessment of Underlying Molecular Mechanisms Promoting Adipogenic Outcomes in Complex Mixtures.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided a report to Congress on its capacity to implement certain provisions of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Act). The report provides point-in-time estimates of EPA’s current estimated capacity and resources needed to implement the 2016 Lautenberg Act amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). EPA states that it recognizes its responsibility to identify and implement opportunities to reduce costs as it incorporates lessons learned since the Lautenberg Act was enacted and builds the scientific, regulatory, and other infrastructure needed to implement the program effectively. For example:

  • The resources included in President Biden’s fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request would allow EPA to modernize its information technology (IT) systems, which at times hinder and significantly slow chemical review work. These improvements will ultimately reduce TSCA implementation costs;
  • The resources included in the FY 2023 budget request would allow EPA to increase and further diversify the expertise of the TSCA program’s scientific workforce, which will reduce re-work and enable more timely and robust chemical reviews, and thus ultimately reduce TSCA implementation costs;
  • As EPA further develops its scientific and regulatory tools (including but not limited to systematic review, techniques to assess chemical risks to potentially exposed and susceptible subpopulations, and potential measures to address occupational safety), EPA expects costs of developing these tools to decrease;
  • EPA has made significant efforts to enhance its intra- and inter-agency coordination to improve the efficiency of the prioritization, risk evaluation, and regulatory processes by identifying and resolving concerns earlier, thus increasing EPA’s capacity to implement the Lautenberg Act in accordance with statutory deadlines; and
  • Many of the first 30 chemicals subject to the amended TSCA risk evaluation and regulatory process are high production volume substances used by many sectors for many purposes, and about which health and environmental concerns are known to exist. As EPA continues to meet the TSCA mandate continuously to select and evaluate chemical substances from among the thousands of chemical substances in commerce, it is reasonable to expect that a reduction in the scope and complexity of each risk evaluation, as well as the associated risk management actions, would reduce implementation costs.

According to the report, the combination of the resources included in Biden’s FY 2023 budget request, an amended fees rule, and EPA’s ongoing efforts to build and improve the scientific, regulatory, and other infrastructure needed to implement TSCA more efficiently should, over time, reduce the levels of resources needed in the future. Our forthcoming memorandum will include a detailed summary of the proposed rule and an insightful commentary.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) New Chemicals Program will host a webinar on October 18, 2022, on EPA’s process for assessing the potential risks of new chemicals under Section 5 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the types of data EPA considers in this assessment. The webinar will cover examples of quantitative and qualitative data unlikely to be accepted for engineering assessment, considerations EPA makes when evaluating data, and clarifications of common misconceptions in EPA’s new chemical assessments.
 
As reported in our June 27, 2022, memorandum, in June 2022, EPA announced a broad outreach effort to describe to stakeholders how EPA evaluates engineering data (i.e., data related to environmental release and worker exposure) provided for new chemical submissions and common issues that cause EPA to have to reconduct risk assessments (“rework”). The goal of this effort is to prevent delays of EPA’s new chemical reviews caused by rework.
 
This will be the second in a series of webinars intended to increase the efficiency and transparency of EPA’s new chemical determinations. As reported in our July 28, 2022, memorandum, in July 2022, EPA hosted the first webinar, analyzing common issues that cause EPA to have to rework risk assessments. Meeting materials are available for those who missed the first webinar.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on October 11, 2022, that the Office of Research and Development’s (ORD) Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) will review the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) New Chemicals Collaborative Research Program. 87 Fed. Reg. 61313. The meeting will be held October 24-25, 2022, via videoconference. Attendees must register by October 23, 2022. Comments must be received by October 23, 2022, to be considered by BOSC. EPA states that requests for the draft agenda or to make a presentation at the meeting will be accepted until October 23, 2022.
 
BOSC is a federal advisory committee that provides advice and recommendations to ORD on technical and management issues of its research programs. The meeting agenda and materials will be posted on BOSC’s website. According to the Federal Register notice, proposed agenda items for the meeting include, but are not limited to, review of the New Chemicals Collaborative Research Program.
 
As reported in our March 14, 2022, memorandum on the draft document entitled “Modernizing the Process and Bringing Innovative Science to Evaluate New Chemicals Under TSCA,” the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) proposes to develop and implement a multi-year collaborative research program focused on approaches for performing risk assessments on new chemical substances under TSCA. On April 20-21, 2022, EPA held a virtual public meeting to provide an overview of the program and give stakeholders an opportunity to provide input. EPA has posted the meeting materials in the online docket. A summary of the meeting is available in our April 22, 2022, memorandum.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold a webinar on October 13, 2022, on its web-based Interspecies Correlation Estimation (Web-ICE) tool. According to EPA, protecting the diversity of species from the adverse effects of chemicals is a significant environmental challenge. EPA acknowledges that information on the effects of chemicals on species is either very limited or lacking entirely, making management and mitigation of environmental contaminants difficult. EPA developed the Web-ICE tool to allow toxicity extrapolation from standard test organisms to diverse taxa, including endangered species. The publicly-accessible application allows risk assessors and environmental managers from all sectors to estimate chemical toxicity to a diversity of fresh and saltwater invertebrates and fish, birds and mammals, and aquatic plants (algae) that may have limited toxicity data. The training webinar will provide an overview of Web-ICE, including a brief overview of ICE models, demonstration of its application with example case studies, and a tutorial on using the Internet application. Registration is open.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On August 25, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that registration was open for the 2022 Conference on the State of the Science on Development and Use of New Approach Methods (NAM) for Chemical Safety Testing. EPA notes that there will be limited availability in person at EPA headquarters in Washington, DC, on October 12-13, 2022, and a virtual option will also be available. Conference topics include:

  • Variability and Relevance of Traditional Toxicity Tests;
  • Evolution of Validation and Scientific Confidence Frameworks to Incorporate 21st Century Science; and
  • Breakout groups discussing Variability of Traditional Toxicity Tests, Relevance of Traditional Toxicity Tests, and Feedback on EPA Scientific Confidence Framework.

EPA asks that attendees register for the NAMs conference before October 7, 2022.
 
On October 18, 2022, EPA will provide training on the Computational Toxicology (CompTox) Chemicals Dashboard, which is part of a suite of databases and web applications developed by EPA to support the development of innovative methods to evaluate chemicals for potential health risks. The computational toxicology tools and data in the Dashboard help prioritize chemicals based on potential health risks. Specifically targeted for decision-makers, the training will provide:

  • An overview of the Dashboard content and function;
  • Application-oriented use-case demonstrations in the areas of general use, hazard/bioactivity, exposure/absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME)-in vitro to in vivo extrapolation (IVIVE), and chemistry; and
  • Opportunities for participatory learning and engagement.

The training will offer information about the latest release of the Dashboard and how it can be used to gather actionable information about chemical properties and risks through case examples, demonstrations, and hands-on exercises. Registration is now open (attendees must register for the training portions individually):


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on August 22, 2022, that as part of its commitment to re-evaluate policies and practices under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) New Chemicals Program to ensure they adhere to statutory requirements and the Biden Administration’s executive orders and directives, it has updated its policy to discontinue the use of exposure modeling thresholds when assessing the health and environmental risks of new chemicals under TSCA. According to EPA, due in part to the automation of modeling, it has become less burdensome to complete these calculations. Furthermore, according to EPA, removing the thresholds supports President Biden’s Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” which calls on federal agencies to advance equity, including by reviewing and revising as needed government policies and programs impacting underserved communities.
 
The New Chemicals Program will implement this change by making minimal changes to the coding in the New Chemical Review application to remove the thresholds and will update standard operating procedures and training materials for exposure and human health risk assessors. EPA states that it will implement this policy change “as soon as feasible.” According to EPA, despite the resource challenges it is currently facing in the TSCA program, it anticipates that the change “will have minimal impact on the amount of time it takes to complete new chemical reviews and that the benefits gained from a more comprehensive accounting of all potential air and water releases will help ensure any needed protections are in place before a new chemical can come to market.”
 
More information and a detailed commentary that discusses thresholds of toxicological concern (TTC) are available in our August 22, 2022, memorandum.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on July 28, 2022, entitled Persistent Chemicals: Technologies for PFAS Assessment, Detection, and Treatment. GAO was asked to conduct a technology assessment on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) assessment, detection, and treatment. The report examines the technologies for more efficient assessments of the adverse health effects of PFAS and alternative substances; the benefits and challenges of current and emerging technologies for PFAS detection and treatment; and policy options that could help enhance benefits and mitigate challenges associated with these technologies. GAO assessed relevant technologies; surveyed PFAS subject matter experts; interviewed stakeholder groups, including government, non-governmental organizations (NGO), industry, and academia; and reviewed key reports. GAO identified three challenges associated with PFAS assessment, detection, and treatment technologies:

  • PFAS chemical structures are diverse and difficult to analyze for health risks, and machine learning requires extensive training data that may not be available;
     
  • Researchers lack analytical standards for many PFAS, limiting the development of effective detection methods; and
     
  • The effectiveness and availability of disposal and destruction options for PFAS are uncertain because of a lack of data, monitoring, and guidance.

GAO developed the following three policy options that could help mitigate these challenges:

  • Promote research: Policymakers could support development of technologies and methods to more efficiently research PFAS health risks. This policy option could help address the challenge of limited information on the large number and diversity of PFAS, as well as a lack of standardized data sets for machine learning;
     
  • Expand method development: Policymakers could collaborate to improve access to standard reference samples of PFAS and increase the pace of method and reference sample development for PFAS detection. This policy option could help address the challenges of a lack of validated methods in media other than water, lack of analytical standards, and cost, which all affect researchers’ ability to develop new detection technologies; and
     
  • Support full-scale treatment: Policymakers could encourage the development and evaluation of full-scale technologies and methods to dispose of or destroy PFAS. This policy option could help address the challenges of cost and efficiency of disposal and destruction technologies and a lack of guidance from regulators.

GAO notes that these policy options involve possible actions by policymakers, which may include Congress, federal agencies, state and local governments, academia, and industry.


 
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