EPA Is Slow To Carry Out Its Responsibility To Control Harmful Chemicals

Gao ID: CED-81-1 October 28, 1980

GAO made a review to determine the problems the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has faced in implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act and the corrective actions which have been or are being taken. The Act gave EPA broad new authority to control chemicals which present an unreasonable risk to health and environment.

Almost 4 years after the enactment of the Act, neither the public nor the environment are much better protected. EPA was not prepared to fulfill its new responsibilities when the law was enacted, and the program has had development and staffing problems. The program lacks an articulated plan of action, an effective organizational structure, and formal strategy. EPA has recognized the need for changes and has taken action. It agreed on a basic framework for guiding program activities and proposed a major reorganization which would consolidate responsibility for the program under one deputy assistant administrator. EPA progress has been slow in gathering information about the chemicals now in commercial use, identifying those which are harmful, and controling those which present an unreasonable risk. EPA has placed less emphasis on assessing and controlling existing chemicals than on new chemicals partly because other Federal programs have regulatory authority over existing chemicals. EPA needs a system to set priorities for chemicals so that those presenting the greatest risk are evaluated first. EPA has not yet developed the operational criteria to identify and control chemicals which may cause cancer, gene mutations, or birth defects. EPA has not required the testing of any of the 38 chemicals recommended thus far and has not issued any final testing standards. Premanufacture notice to EPA for new chemicals is mandatory under the Act. Operating under interim policy guidance, many manufacturers are not submitting the data needed to effectively assess a chemical's risk.


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