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Session:107th Congress (Second Session)
Witness(es):Warren Muir (delivering testimony on behalf of Bruce Alberts, President, National Academy of Sciences)
Credentials:  Executive Director, Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Academy of Sciences, The National Academies
Committee:Environment and Public Works Committee, U.S. Senate
Subject:Persistant Organic Pollutants

NOTE: The following statement was delivered by Warren Muir, Executive Director, Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Academy of Sciences, The National Academies, on behalf of Bruce Alberts.


Statement of

Bruce Alberts
National Academy of Sciences

before the

Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate

May 14, 2002

Chairman Jeffords and members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to discuss before your committee the proposed bill to implement the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. I am very pleased to be here with you today.

Since the role of the National Academy of Sciences and its affiliated institutions is to serve as a source of independent expert scientific, engineering, and medical advice, I will limit my testimony to scientific issues and the possible involvement of our operating arm, the National Research Council, in reviewing candidate chemicals for possible future inclusion in the conventions, starting with general issues and moving to specific drafting issues. I will defer to others to address the political and policy issues associated with alternative convention ratification strategies.

Section 107 “Research Program to Support POPs Convention” contains a provision in which EPA may enter into a contract with the National Academy of Sciences to:

"(1) develop and apply screening criteria for adding new substances or mixtures to the POPs Convention…

(2) propose alternative designs for a global monitoring program aimed at identifying persistent and bioaccumulative chemical substances…and

(3) recommend priority candidates …for possible nomination to the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee…of the POPs Convention.”

It also requests that we consider a list of specific chemicals.

The National Academies are prepared to assist the U.S. government by providing independent advice on scientifically sound methods for screening and analyzing potential POPs. We are also prepared to provide advice on the scientific and technical aspects of alternative designs for global monitoring programs. In addition, the National Academies would be able to prepare reports compiling and assessing relevant scientific data on specific chemicals and mixtures. Indeed, the National Academies have a long history of providing such advice, in the context of other laws and programs.

In providing this type of assistance to the government, the National Academies convene groups of experts from the academic community and other organizations who serve without compensation to produce peer-reviewed reports. These experts are carefully chosen to provide an appropriate range of expertise and a balance of perspectives while avoiding conflicts of interests. Our committees solicit and consider public input. The members of our committees serve in their individual capacities and not as representatives of any stakeholder organizations; their deliberations result in a scientific consensus, not a multi-stakeholder consensus. We do not have the same notice and public comment typical of the development of federal regulatory policies. We do not consider it our role to recommend specific policies for federal regulation; instead, our role is to provide independent expert advice on the scientific basis relevant to such policies.

The National Academies would be able to produce an expert report recommending alternative designs for a global monitoring program aimed at identifying persistent and bioaccumulative chemical substances. Such alternative designs would be driven primarily by scientific and practical considerations.

I turn now to the remaining two requests for assistance from the National Academies that are specified in Section 107 of the proposed bill. Executive Body Decision 1998/2 of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution and Annex D of the Stockholm Convention contain technical criteria for screening prospective chemicals for persistence, bioaccumulation, potential for long-range environmental transport, and adverse effects. It would be entirely appropriate for the National Academies to compile and evaluate data on chemicals to determine whether or not they meet these criteria, or any similar set of specified technical criteria.

Annex E of the Stockholm Convention and Decision 1998/2 require that “risk profiles” be developed for candidate chemicals. The following types of information are to be included as far as possible.

• sources (production, uses, and environmental releases),

• hazard assessment,

• environmental fate,

• monitoring data,

• exposures,

• bioavailability,

• previous assessments and

• previous risk management actions

• availability of alternatives.

These risk profiles are used to make decisions on adding specific chemicals to these conventions. These final decisions involve, appropriately, not only scientific criteria, but also policy and political considerations, such as costs, benefits, and other socioeconomic factors.

Since non-scientific factors are properly involved in such considerations, the National Academies are reluctant to be asked to recommend that specific chemicals be added to the POPs Convention. Rather, we propose that, if asked to be involved, the National Academies be requested: (1) to recommend scientific principles and methods for preparing risk profiles, and (2) to apply such principles and methods to prepare risk profiles, with information available in the United States, for the chemicals listed in Section 107 of the proposed bill, as well as for chemicals with similar attributes.

According to the above proposal, the EPA and the U.S. government would use the risk profiles we develop to make the decisions on what chemicals to propose for inclusion in the POPs Convention. These decisions would incorporate non-scientific policy considerations as well as the scientific considerations that we provide.

Note that many chemicals can be expected to meet the screening criteria of Annex D of the Stockholm Convention but are neither used in commerce in the United States nor found in the environment in substantial quantities. Less than 100,000 chemicals are currently in commerce, out of more than 38 million chemicals reported in the scientific literature. Only a small percentage of the 100,000 chemicals in commerce are in large-scale production, and many of those are not in processes or uses that are likely to result in significant releases to the environment. It would clearly be inappropriate to recommend chemicals for inclusion in the convention if they are not of environmental significance, and it would be inappropriate for the National Academies to ask experts to volunteer their time to review such chemicals.

If called upon to develop the suggested risk profiles, the National Academies would need the full cooperation of the EPA. For example, preparing such profiles would require the assistance of the agency in obtaining unpublished data and information from agency databases and files, as well as other internal agency information.

Section 107 (b) of the bill reads “The Administrator may offer to enter into a contract with the Academy…”. However, the language thereafter mandates the specifics of such a contract. We would urge that these mandates be softened to recommendations. Such softening might remove disincentives for EPA and the Academy to enter into such a contract.

Included in the specifics is a January 1, 2004 date for the National Academies to complete a report. We recommend the report be described as a “progress” report to avoid any misinterpretation of the nature of the report. The many activities called for in this bill cannot all be completed in 18 months or less. Furthermore, the bill fails to specify a starting date for the contract, so the time available for the National Academies to perform our work might be considerably less than 18 months after the contract is received. We suggest that the requested outcome should be more than a single report. Instead, Section 107 could provide a basis for the National Academies to furnish longer-term support to the US Government in carrying out its responsibilities under the Stockholm Convention and the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.

The term “research” is used in several places in the section. However, we want to be clear that, if the National Academies undertake these activities, we will not be generating new scientific data. Rather we will be compiling, analyzing, synthesizing, and reporting data and information that has already been developed by others.

In sum, the National Academy of Sciences, through its operating arm, the National Research Council, is prepared to assist the US Government in carrying out its responsibilities under the Stockholm Convention and the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. To do so would entail the development of several reports providing independent scientific advice, leaving the weighing of the important policy and political considerations to the government.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to discuss this important bill with you today.

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