COMMENTARY | EPA’s Effort to Misrepresent Pesticide Tests Backfires

Kyla Bennett

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EPA’s Effort to Misrepresent Pesticide Tests Backfires

This commentary was originally published in the Summer 2024 edition of PEEReview.

In a misguided effort to protect its reputation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knowingly issued false statements that pesticides it tested contained no per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PEER is demanding that EPA retract these falsehoods.

In the fall of 2022, researchers led by Dr. Steven Lasee found high levels of PFAS in widely used pesticides. Published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters, the study contradicted EPA statements that PFAS are not used in registered pesticide products.

In a May 2023 press release, EPA stated that it “did not find any PFAS in the tested pesticide products” citing a non-peer-reviewed research memo. PEER was surprised at these results and obtained EPA’s tests via a Freedom of Information Act request. What EPA did not reveal was that it did find numerous PFAS in the pesticides but did not report the results from one of the tests it ran. Moreover, EPA neglected to mention that the samples it tested had been deliberately spiked with PFOS, a type of PFAS. However, their tests did not find the PFOS, indicating that the tests were insufficiently sensitive. In addition, EPA engaged in several faulty processes such as failing to do replicates as prescribed under the method used.

“EPA’s actions were baffling,” declared PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that spiking samples is a common quality control technique. “The fact that EPA could not find any PFAS in samples deliberately spiked indicates just how incompetent this damage control operation was.”

Before pursuing legal remedies, PEER has sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan demanding that the agency retract the press release and accompanying memo; issue an apology to the Journal study’s authors; and discipline the responsible parties within EPA.

“EPA apparently is trying to deflect attention from its own regulatory mismanagement by attempting to smear conscientious researchers,” added Bennett, calling this episode one of the most appalling actions she has seen in agency history. “EPA needs to act now to prevent further application of PFAS-laden pesticides.”

Kyla Bennett is PEER’s Director of Science Policy and the Director of PEER’s New England/Mid-Atlantic field office. She is a scientist and attorney formerly with U.S. EPA.

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