The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overhauling its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program in a bid to make the program more transparent and to improve the process of scientific assessments, the agency has announced.

The changes will not only ensure better control over the effects of various chemicals on public health but will streamline assessment processes, allowing the EPA to produce more IRIS evaluations on an annual basis, the agency's statement said.

The IRIS Program makes assessments and compiles information from these evaluations into a national database. It stores important details about how different chemicals affect human health and at what doses they become risky. The IRIS Program helps local authorities, governments and private organizations to characterize the public health risks of chemical substances when combined with exposure information.

Since these assessments of chemicals are the base which various organizations across the United States use to make informed decisions for the protection of public health, the evaluations have to be fully reliable and supported by scientific evidence, the agency stressed.

The new processes will see the EPA releasing preliminary materials and holding public meetings in the early stages of the assessment to present the criteria for choosing evaluation methods and to make sure critical research is included. Organizing public meetings at the beginning of the assessment will give the public the chance to provide timely input and comment on the information regarding the assessed chemical.

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A new document structure will also be presented by the EPA, hoping to make the IRIS Program simpler and more concise. In order to grant full public access to information available for assessed chemicals, a new enhanced version of the IRIS website will be launched, with more detailed data about schedules, updates and stakeholder meetings.

As part of the changes, EPA is introducing "stopping rules" to give a cut-off point for accepting new data for individual IRIS assessments and raising related scientific issues. In this way the EPA believes it will be able to assess more chemicals and provide more accurate assessment progress timetables to the public.

The EPA is committed to ensuring that all assessments are conducted according to the highest standards and with the most advanced technology, and has decided to introduce these updates to the assessment processes as part of this commitment, the statement said. According to Lek Kadeli, principal deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Research and Development, the updates will ensure that assessments are made in a timely manner and in a completely transparent way. The changes will serve to enhance the IRIS assessments and will enable the agency to take better care of public health and the environment by increasing the average number of chemical assessments it is able to carry out in a given period of time, he stated.