Politics Keeping EPA From Toxin Warnings?

GENERIC EPA army camouflage waste toxic barrels
One of the most important jobs the EPA has is to assess the risk Americans face from hundreds of toxic chemicals. But a new government report obtained by CBS News in advance of its release Tuesday, says non-scientists play an increasing role in EPA decisions. It even suggests that political pressure may be putting the health of Americans at risk.

Formaldehyde is found in everything from home building materials to furniture to those infamous trailers that made thousands of Katrina victims ill.

For more than a decade the EPA has tried, and failed, to regulate formaldehyde.

The same is true for hundreds of other toxic chemicals, including some that have contaminated drinking-water supplies across the nation.

A new government report by the investigative arm of Congress concludes that the process for analyzing health effects of toxic chemicals "is at serious risk of becoming obsolete" because of endless delays and secrecy, CBS News correspondent Chip Reid reports.

Behind it all, critics say, is the White House.

"We're witnessing a scandal of major proportions, in my opinion," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. "And, yes, politics has taken over the whole thing ... and the scientists are being thrown to the rear."

An EPA scientist with extensive experience in this area, who refused to go on camera due to fear of retribution, told CBS News: "these chemicals have effects ranging from learning disabilities to cancer. And EPA scientists can't protect the public because of white house interference."

Look inside the GAO's report.
Check out a letter from the EPA responding to the report.
Read a letter from the OMB responding to the GAO report.
The process for assessing toxic chemicals could be documented on a simple chart five years ago.

Today, after the White House added layer after layer of review, it looks like a complicated maze.

Five years ago the EPA set a goal of assessing 50 toxic chemicals a year. In the past two years they completed a total of four.

Now in a letter, the White House budget office said the report is flawed because it focuses on timeliness too much.