Over 100 Residents of Communities Impacted by PFCs Demand Protection of EPA Science Program

IRIS program crucial for communities grappling with contamination from toxic chemicals

February 8, 2018
Keith Gaby, (202) 572-3339, kgaby@edf.org

Today, a letter signed by more than 100 people was submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees demanding the protection of EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program. The signers come from communities and states across the country dealing with contamination of drinking water from perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) – a class of chemicals that persist in the environment and threaten human health. The IRIS program is vital for developing scientific assessments of chemicals like PFCs and providing support to state and local governments that desperately need EPA’s help.

“IRIS does the foundational science that helps protect families from harmful chemicals like PFOA, which is associated with ulcerative colitis and cancer,” said Dr. Jennifer McPartland, Senior Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund. “Losing IRIS would be devastating for the families who are exposed to toxic chemicals.”

The letter urges committee members to oppose the Senate’s proposal for the FY2018 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies’ funding bill that would eliminate the IRIS program. Housed in EPA’s Office of Research and Development – a non-regulatory arm of the agency – the IRIS program provides robust chemical hazard assessments used by offices across EPA, other federal agencies, as well as local and state governments. The assessments are crucial for making public health decisions on everything from determining clean-up levels at contaminated sites to setting water health advisories and evaluating the risks of chemicals in commerce. 

“The proposal to defund EPA’s IRIS program is anti-science and a slap in the face to polluted communities,” said EWG Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh. “IRIS provides vital scientific information about chemical safety that is relied on by regulators and concerned citizens across the country. Eliminating the program would completely undermine efforts to clean up contaminated communities or set any new chemical safety standards, which are sorely needed.”

The need for the IRIS program is even more apparent as communities grapple with responding to the widespread crisis of PFC contamination in water. From large cities to small towns, communities across the country are struggling with how best to manage contamination from well-known toxic PFCs, like PFOA and PFOS, while understanding and protecting against the potential health risks from less well-studied PFCs like GenX.

“With news reports coming out daily about industrial and agriculture pollution fouling rivers, lakes and streams, it’s clear the crisis facing the nation’s drinking water sources has reached a tipping point,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear RiverKeeper. “And not a single congressional district or state is free from chemical contamination, which is exactly why Congress should protect IRIS and the invaluable resources it provides local communities.” Burdette is one of 58 signers from North Carolina. 

“I’m worried about my family’s health,” said David Berrey of Fairbanks, Alaska. “Last year, tests on my well showed PFOA and PFOS levels over five times higher than EPA’s health advisories. Many of my friends and neighbors are suffering health problems from this contamination. We need a strong IRIS program to help investigate the high levels of PFCs in our drinking water.” Berrey and 14 other Alaskans signed the letter.

“We cannot ignore the human cost of PFC contamination,” said Hope Grosse, a cancer survivor from Warminster, Pennsylvania, where drinking water tests have revealed some of the highest levels of PFOA and PFOS in the nation. “My father passed away from cancer, I know too many friends and neighbors who have been sickened or even killed. The IRIS program is essential for studying toxic chemicals like PFOA and PFOS. I urge our Senators and the EPA to fully support IRIS.” Grosse is one of eight signers from Pennsylvania.

Studies have linked exposure to certain PFCs to a variety of threats – including cancer, immune problems, developmental effects, and thyroid disease – while efforts to understand the effects of other PFCs are challenged by significant data gaps. IRIS scientists and the program’s chemical assessments are vital for evaluating and providing advice on chemicals like PFCs to inform environmental and public health decisions by state and local governments.

With overwhelming local support and need for the program, the letter demonstrates that this is not the time to eliminate or otherwise undermine IRIS. Such a decision would cost the EPA needed scientific expertise that serves the agency, regions, and states and would ultimately threaten public health across the country.

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