EPA has a backlog of 70 chemical assessments

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The Environmental Protection Agency has not been able to keep up with its chemical assessments, some of which have been under way for more than a decade, the Government Accountability Office says.

The EPA assessments are supposed to warn the public of health risks from dangerous chemicals. But the GAO said the agency hasn’t been able to decrease its backlog of ongoing assessments or keep its existing assessments current. For example, assessments of formaldehyde and dioxin have been in progress for 13 and 19 years, respectively.

GAO cites its 2008 report which lists a backlog of 70 assessments.

GAO was also critical of EPA’s handling of water pollution initiatives, hazardous waste cleanup, and its emerging role in climate change.

Efforts to improve watersheds have resulted in expensive partnerships largely deemed ineffective due to poor coordination, unrealistic goals, and inefficient use of resources. GAO found that commitments and plans between the EPA and its partner agencies were inconsistent.

The EPA’s Superfund program will encounter its most complex and costly hazardous waste sites while its funding dwindles. The agency lacks sufficient information on the remaining sites to make accurate predictions about the costs of cleanup at remaining sites.

The agency is implementing a regulatory program for greenhouse gas emissions, which faces numerous legal challenges in the form of lawsuits and legislation. Under the new program, EPA would take on the additional responsibility of collecting, monitoring, and verifying emissions data for as many as 10,000 facilities.

Despite a longer “to-do” list, the EPA’s budget has largely remained flat. The budget increased from $7.8 billion in 2000 to $10.4 billion in 2010.

FAST FACT: While the EPA bears the burden of obtaining information on about 80,000 industrial chemicals, in the European Union, companies must provide data and possible risks about the chemicals they produce. Here, the EPA must demonstrate risks of an industrial chemical before it can require the company to investigate further.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.

MISC.

  • The United States Postal Service posted a $329 million loss in the first quarter of 2011 and is projecting a staggering $6.4 billion net loss for the year. The Postal Service has tried reducing employee hours, but it hasn’t offset losses. (GAO)
  • The National Archives is restructuring to create an open government unit focused on expanded accountability, transparency, and efforts to digitize federal records. (National Archives)