EPA Toxic Substances Program

Long-standing Information Planning Problems Must Be Addressed Gao ID: AIMD-94-25 November 17, 1993

Because toxic chemicals are in such widespread use today, nearly every American's body contains traces of toxic chemicals as a result of skin absorption or other environmental exposure. Some of the chemicals, such as asbestos, PCPs, and ozone-depleting chemicals, have been found to cause tumors and birth defects as well as to harm wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for identifying, assessing, and regulating the risks posed by the approximately 72,000 chemicals in commercial use as well as chemicals proposed for manufacture. Because of concerns about EPA's information resources management practices, this report examines whether EPA is effectively planning for and using information resources to (1) identify and assess chemicals posing the greatest risk to human health and the environment and (2) retrieve critical data on health and environmental risks by other federal users that assess risks from chemicals.

GAO found that: (1) OPPT has not completed a strategic information resources management (IRM) plan to support implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA); (2) OPPT divisions and branches have developed over 200 independent information systems and databases that cannot share data because they lack standard data definitions and formats; (3) OPPT scientists waste time and effort using many different systems and undertaking manual searches; (4) OPPT is scheduled to complete its IRM plan in early 1994; (5) the proposed OPPT IRM plan does not include an assessment of users' functional and information requirements or define an information system architecture; (6) OPPT systems will continue to be incompatible without an information system architecture; (7) TSCA provisions requiring EPA to meet users' information needs have not been implemented; (8) the only OPPT online database available to external users for assessing TSCA data lacks a complete index, has limited search capabilities, and does not provide online access to abstracts; (9) external users must wait days or weeks to receive hard-copy documents of most TSCA data; and (10) the effectiveness of OPPT efforts will be limited unless OPPT focuses on external users' needs.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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