EPA plans to clean up troubled pesticide and chemical programs

The Environmental Protection Agency presented plans to improve scientific integrity today, including the creation of two internal science policy advisory councils. One will focus on the Office of Pollution and Toxics Prevention and the Office of Pesticide Programs and will be chaired by a science policy advisor, a new high-level role within the agency. EPA will also review its New Chemicals Division.

The announcement comes after The Intercept reported extensively on corruption allegations of five complainants within the New Chemical Products Division, which is part of the Pollution and Toxic Prevention Office, and detailed extensive problems within the Office of Pesticide Programs.

The whistleblowers have provided detailed evidence of interference with the evaluation of dozens of new chemicals submitted to the agency by companies planning to bring them to market. Scientists documented intense pressure within the agency to minimize or eliminate evidence of potential harm caused by chemicals, including neurological effects, birth defects, and cancer. They too reported that his findings were altered or removed from the evaluations without his knowledge.

EPA described its planned effort to shore up scientific integrity in the New Chemicals Division as “a top-down effort to catalog, prioritize, and improve its related standard operating procedures (SOPs), decision-making, and record-keeping practices. with review and management of new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Law ”. The agency’s “New Chemicals Advisory Committee,” one of two new internal advisory groups, will review science and science policy issues related to new chemical submissions.

“Solid, solid science underpins confidence in our decision-making among the public we serve. Today’s announcements are the latest in a series of steps OCSPP is taking to reaffirm our commitment to scientific integrity and restore public trust, ”said Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. the EPA. Since taking office, President Joe Biden has repeatedly expressed his intention to eradicate industry influence on environmental policy, which had flourished during the previous administration.

But Tim Whitehouse, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the organization representing the whistleblowers, is skeptical that the proposed changes will adequately address the agency’s extensive problems if EPA does not also punish members of the agency. personnel who have violated scientific integrity. .

“While these processes and procedures can improve the situation within the offices, they cannot change the culture within the agency,” Whitehouse said. “The core issue at EPA that needs to be addressed is that middle managers who violate the rules and policies of scientific integrity must be held accountable. And that doesn’t seem to be happening. “

Tampering with the chemical evaluations that the whistleblowers have exposed is just one part of a larger problem at the agency, according to Whitehouse. “I look forward to the EPA’s senior managers and political leaders coming up and meeting personally and speaking not just with our clients, but with the dozens and dozens of people who have filed scientific integrity complaints against their administration,” he said.

The EPA inspector general is currently investigating the allegations made by the complainants.

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