MassTortDefense has blogged before about changes to the IRIS system. See here.
A reminder: IRIS is a compilation of electronic reports on specific substances found in the environment and their potential to cause human health effects. IRIS was initially developed for EPA staff in response to a growing demand for consistent information on substances for use in risk assessments, decision-making and regulatory activities. For each chemical contained in IRIS, the database contains summary information on the studies evaluated, any uncertainties or assumptions made in the studies, a statement of the level of confidence that EPA has in the study, the names of EPA scientists to contact for more information, and complete bibliographic citations. Proffered experts in the toxic tort branch of products litigation may refer to and seek to rely on IRIS. E.g., Avance v. Kerr-McGee Chemical, 2006 WL 39124272 (E.D. Texas 1/1//07).

As noted, EPA has proposed various changes to the process for developing chemical assessments, including an expanded process for recommending a substance be assessed; the earlier involvement of other agencies and the public; hosting “listening sessions” to allow for the broader participation and engagement of interested parties; and an even more rigorous scientific peer review of IRIS assessments. The agency said the changes would make the process of assessing the risks of potential environmental contaminants faster, more predictable and more

MassTortDefense predicted that environmental groups and Democratic legislators would complain. And they have.

The Natural Resources Defense Council testified before Congress last week that the proposed
changes would allow the White House to delay scientific assessments of chemicals’ health risks and hinder opportunities for public comment and scientific debate. An NRDC director told the House Science & Technology Committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee that the changes would damage EPA’s ability to identify chemicals that pose the greatest risk to public health. The NRDC argues that instead of providing greater transparency, objectivity, balance, rigor and predictability to the IRIS assessments, as EPA claims, the process will somehow give industry more access and more influence to what has historically been an objective scientific evaluation process. The new IRIS process, NRDC claims, introduces steps that are time consuming and undermine the objectivity and transparency for credible and valid risk assessments.

NRDC thus asked committee members to overturn or withdraw the new IRIS process and require IRIS health assessments to be reviewed in a more “open process.”

It seems like the thrust of the criticism relates to an obviously good thing, the proposal to have various interested federal agencies communicate and coordinate. The new steps in the process include greater opportunities for other federal agencies to conduct research to fill data gaps.