SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
6 November 2014
Volume 15 Issue 11

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SETAC Hosts Successful TSCA Risk Assessment Science Seminar for Congressional Staff

Tom Augspurger, Public Outreach Committee

A Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Risk Assessment Science Seminar was held on 2 October just outside of the U.S. Capitol on the shores of the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. This followed SETAC North America’s offer of expertise to help inform discussions on reform of the TSCA. Drawing from environmental toxicology, chemistry and risk assessment skills of the SETAC TSCA Reform Dialog Group and support of SETAC staff, eight SETAC members covering our tripartite structure provided the workshop for staff of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. “Helping policy makers achieve a better understanding of the environmental sciences and the application of risk-based approaches for chemicals management are valuable outreach activities for our society,” noted SETAC Global Executive Director Charles Menzie, a participant in the briefing.

Relying heavily on teaching tools from previous SETAC workshops and courses, we provided an introduction to risk assessment followed by modules on exposure assessment, effects assessment, data quality, test methods and setting priorities. Areas of emphasis in the presentations included SETAC perspectives on the ten issues which were identified in letters introducing SETAC to the US House and Senate in March 2014. The five and a half hours allotted for the presentations allowed for much discussion time. Despite the technical nature of parts of the presentation, the congressional staffers seemed to really get it.

This first workshop was an important milestone in SETAC North America’s interest in outreach and education to promote use of good science in policymaking in a non-partisan and non-advocacy manner — providing scientific guidance without advocating on legislation. The workshop was well received with one attendee commenting that the discussion of data quality alone was “worth the whole trip.” The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville, Md., was a productive setting for a focused yet casual exchange of information; a field component with kayaks and local biologists helped reinforce one of the messages on ecological complexity in a way that continued the informal exchange.

Greg Schiefer, SETAC North America Executive Director, observed that this was an excellent opportunity for SETAC to obtain firsthand knowledge about the specific ways in which it can most effectively provide unbiased science information that can positively influence the development of environmental legislation in the U.S.  Stuart Cohen was one of the presenters and chair of the SETAC TSCA Reform Dialog Group. Cohen noted, “This was a great start but much follow-up is required to continue this dialog with the staff involved in potential TSCA reforms. One possible outcome may be one or more science round tables with members of Congress.  A big part of our next phase is drafting and vetting issue papers on the ten topics we mentioned in our letters of introduction, so I encourage people who have volunteered for that or who are interested in helping to join and follow our progress through the SETAC TSCA Reform Dialog Group.”

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