For Immediate Release: Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Contact: Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
EPA Chemical Reviews Corrupted by Industry Influence
Zero Chemicals Disapproved in Thoroughly Broken Risk Assessment Process
Washington, DC — The highly-touted system of chemical risk assessments mandated by statute just five years ago has been completely captured by industry, rendering it ineffective, according to a disclosure made by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists through Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, workers and the public are exposed to unreasonable risks that have been removed from official assessments.
The 2016 Frank Lautenberg Act is the most significant new environmental law in a generation. It was supposed to modernize a lax safety screen for new chemicals. Yet, the law has proven to be a complete bust, with zero new chemicals prohibited from entering the marketplace between 2016 and July, 2021.
In a filing today with the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, scientists in the program submitted more than 60 pages of incriminating emails, text messages, and transcripts describing a rigged system in which –
- Any industry complaint put a chemical assessment in a category called “hair on fire” (“HOF” for short) cases that are then prioritized by the agency managers for review;
- Key managers move back and forth between jobs at EPA and the chemical industry with scant revolving door or conflict of interest scrutiny; and
- Besides ignoring risk indicators, EPA managers routinely use a 90-day review timeline to intimidate staff into signing off on assessments where there is insufficient data to reach a conclusion.
“EPA’s chemical assessment process has itself become contaminated by a cadre of entrenched career managers ignoring science,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that the agency’s Inspector General is evaluating PEER’s first complaint regarding managers altering assessments without knowledge or consent of the assessors. “EPA needs to do what it has never done before – identify and remove responsible managers.”
In one revealing exchange with contractors, one EPA manager requested “a button” be added to allow management to bypass the risk assessors as soon as a company files a complaint, saying:
Yeah, that’s correct. So, the, the simple answer is, yes, we’d, we’d like a button or something and then we’ll assign whoever that person or persons may be to override everything.
“Reading these emails and other messages provides a sickening look into an organization that has become thoroughly corrupt,” added Bennett. “All of EPA’s internal safeguards to stem improper industry influence seem to have short-circuited.”
One tactic the managers have used is prohibiting risk assessors from consulting with other experts within the division or across the agency. This prevents assessors from filling in gaps or being able to tap other specialists to strengthen arguments against approval of a particular chemical.