Pursuant to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA conducts toxicity assessments to determine whether or not to register chemical substances. In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) addressed EPA’s longstanding struggle to obtain adequate scientific information on chemical toxicity and exposure levels necessary to complete timely, credible chemical toxicity assessments.
The registration process requires that EPA review health and environmental effects data submitted by a company seeking registration of a chemical substance, but in the absence of necessary information, allows the agency to grant “conditional registration” with the understanding that the company must provide the missing data within a specified time. In 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a study finding that EPA has relied on conditional registration for 65% of more than 16,000 pesticides approved for use, allowing the majority of chemicals to enter the market without proper review.
The GAO report evaluated EPA’s use of conditional registration and its system for managing conditional registrations. The GAO determined that EPA’s database does not accurately reflect the number of conditional registrations because, not only have EPA staff member’s misused the term “conditional registration,” but the database prevents officials from changing registration status from conditional once manufacturers provide the necessary data. Compounding the issue, the database makes it difficult to track whether companies have submitted safety data as it becomes available.
In response, EPA has indicated that it has begun training staff members on proper classification and is developing a new tracking system with codes for conditional registration decisions.