James E. Klaunig is a toxicologist, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Indiana University’s School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. He has served for the past 25 years in the Scientific Advisory Board and numerous research panels for EPA and served 12 years as a State Toxicologist from Indiana.
Klaunig said that EPA was initially created as an enforcement agency, yet its research activities have since grown to be internationally respected, especially in the last 15 to 20 years.
“From a scientific and regulatory point of view, one of the key issues facing environmental science and environmental health in the future is how to evaluate and assess the potential risk of chemicals in the environment for humans,” he said. . “We can find remnants and examples of chemicals in the air, water and soil at very low levels.”
For example, when Klaunig began working and researching in this field 35 years ago, scientists knew that there were “some” toxic chemicals in drinking water at very low levels. With the latest analytical technology, scientists can now find thousands of chemicals in small quantities in water.
“The question is, ‘How do you take this information and apply it to risks to humans, taking into account the very low levels and the potential additive toxic effects of mixtures of these chemicals?'” Klaunig said. ‘It’s more complicated. We live in a chemical world and we are exposed to chemicals at different doses at different times in our lives. ”
In the past, scientists relied on animal-based and epidemiological studies to assess the risk of human exposure. Now EPA is taking the lead by replacing the use of rodents for testing the toxic effects and instead using newer technologies to better assess human risks from the large number of chemicals.
“We do not have the resources to continue assessing toxicity and human risk with the classic approach of the 20th century bioassay. The US EPA has been instrumental in developing and applying new technologies along with dose-relevant “Mechanisms of action approaches for human risk assessment. This allows us to better define the potential harmful effects of chemicals in the environment for humans,” said Klaunig.
Forty years ago this week, A. James Barnes, Professor at the IU and former Dean, was a first-hand witness to history: the founding of the EPA. He was a special assistant to William Ruckelshaus, the first EPA administrator, and later his chief of staff.
Barnes, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs and at the IU Maurer School of Law, said Ruckelshaus set a tone of honest and impartial enforcement of environmental laws that served the bureau well.
“Creating the office was the right thing to do,” Barnes said. “And I think Bill Ruckelshaus was the best possible choice to execute it.”
EPA marked the 40th anniversary of its creation on December 2. Founded according to a government organization plan by President Richard Nixon, the federal standard institution, research, monitoring and enforcement activities related to the environment consolidated into one agency.
Barnes pointed out that a series of high-profile environmental disasters provided an outpouring of support for government action. Pollution caused the Cuyahoga River to burn. Lake Erie died of algal growth. A blowout on an offshore well-covered beach in California with oil. The bald eagle was threatened by DDT. Strips know about the dense smog of Los Angeles.
With the first Earth Day in April 1970, Barnes said, “You had literally demonstrated to millions of people. A lot of individuals thought it was time to do something.”
Barnes had been working on Ruckelshaus’s failed campaign for the U.S. Senate from Indiana in 1968. When Nixon tapped Ruckelshaus, then a Justice official, as head of the EPA, Barnes joined him for the challenging task of a new office to gather with staff from the departments of Agriculture, Interior and Health, Education and Welfare.
“Bill described the process as an attempt to perform an appendectomy while running a 100-yard dash,” Barnes recalled. But the bureau gained early credibility due to Ruckelshaus’ tough decisions and management skills, he said. When the United Nations held its first conference on the environment in Stockholm in 1972, representatives from other countries looked to the United States for guidance on the issue.
Barnes said there was strong bilingual support for environmental protection in the agency’s early years. He laments that the environmental problems have become deeply polarized and that decisions of agencies have become increasingly political.
After practicing law in Washington, DC, Barnes worked for the Department of Agriculture and then returned to the EPA in the 1980s as general counsel and deputy administrator, again under Ruckelshaus. He served from 1988-2000 as dean of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs.