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Review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Draft Iris Assessment of Formaldehyde
formaldehyde exposure and the three kinds of cancer, EPA’s decision to calculate unit risk values for them appears to be defensible on the basis of the agency’s cancer guidelines. However, EPA should provide a clear description of the criteria that it used to select the specific cancers and demonstrate a systematic application of the criteria. The calculation of the unit risk values is a complex process, involves many sources of uncertainty and variability, and is influenced by the low-dose extrapolation used (for example, linear vs threshold). The committee therefore recommends that EPA conduct an independent analysis of the dose-response models to confirm the degree to which the models fit the data appropriately. EPA is encouraged to consider the use of alternative extrapolation models for the analysis of the cancer data; this is especially important given the use of a single study, the inconsistencies in the exposure measures, and the uncertainties associated with the selected cancers.
THE FORMALDEHYDE IRIS ASSESSMENT: THE PATH FORWARD
The committee recognizes that the completion of the formaldehyde IRIS assessment is awaited by diverse stakeholders, and it has tried to be judicious in its recommendations of specific changes noted in its report. However, the committee concludes that the following general recommendations are critical to address in the revision of the draft assessment. First, rigorous editing is needed to reduce the volume of the text substantially and address the redundancies and inconsistencies; reducing the text could greatly enhance the clarity of the document. Second, Chapter 1 of the draft assessment needs to discuss more fully the methods of the assessment. The committee is recommending not the addition of long descriptions of EPA guidelines but rather clear concise statements of criteria used to exclude, include, and advance studies for derivation of the RfCs and unit risk estimates. Third, standardized evidence tables that provide the methods and results of each study are needed for all health outcomes; if appropriate tables were used, long descriptions of the studies could be moved to an appendix or deleted. Fourth, all critical studies need to be thoroughly evaluated for strengths and weaknesses by using uniform approaches; the findings of these evaluations could be summarized in tables to ensure transparency. Fifth, the rationales for selection of studies that are used to calculate RfCs and unit risks need to be articulated clearly. Sixth, the weight-of-evidence descriptions need to indicate the various determinants of “weight.” The reader needs to be able to understand what elements (such as consistency) were emphasized in synthesizing the evidence.
The committee is concerned about the persistence of problems encountered with IRIS assessments over the years, especially given the multiple groups that have highlighted them, and encourages EPA to address the problems with development of the draft assessments that have been identified. The committee recognizes that revision of the approach will involve an extensive effort by EPA staff and others, and it is not recommending that EPA delay the revision of the