EPA Corrupted Pesticide Risk Assessment to Aid Industry
IG Found Managers Trampled Standard Procedures to Diminish Cancer Risk
Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) improperly downgraded the cancer classification of one of the nation’s most popular fumigants, according to a new report from its Office of Inspector General (IG). The IG investigation was prompted by a Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) complaint charging EPA managers with fraudulently watering down the risk assessment for a major pesticide.
In 2020, EPA revised its human health risk assessment of 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D), a Dow Chemical soil fumigant and nematicide; the most common formulation goes by the brand name Telone. EPA downgraded its prior cancer classification of 1,3-D from “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” to “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential.” This downgrade allowed higher amounts of the chemical to be sprayed into the air without being considered a risk to human health.
PEER contended, and the IG confirmed, that an inaccurate literature search which excluded relevant studies, including one concluding that 1,3-D causes DNA damage, contributed to the reduced risk finding.
The IG found that EPA ignored its own procedures for ensuring scientific integrity, transparency, and peer review. Additionally, the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP)’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) members expressed concerns that they did not have “appropriate scientific expertise for using and implementing” a novel analysis method, and yet they voted to approve its use.
Further, EPA managers met with the Telone manufacturer at least five times without entering those meetings into the official pesticide-registration review docket.
“These are not honest mistakes but carry the earmarks of deliberate malfeasance,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, noting that this fits a pattern of industry manipulation of EPA’s chemical regulation process. “This example of misconduct is egregious but, unfortunately, is not isolated.”
The IG noted that EPA “did not have an explanation for why it did not follow its written standard operating procedures” but the agency is balking at adopting key IG recommendations.
In lieu of conducting the external peer review on the cancer risk assessment suggested by the OIG, Dr. Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator overseeing EPA’s pesticide and chemical programs, instead says they will rely upon the peer review conducted by SciPinion in 2020. This is not an unbiased, independent peer review as all three authors of the SciPinion review “have a financial interest in the content of this manuscript,” and two reviewers are from Dow AgroSciences. This demonstrates that the scientific integrity issues plaguing EPA continue unabated under the Biden Administration.
“While we applaud the IG findings, the report did not name the responsible EPA managers,” added PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, pointing out that the senior official who overrode the scientists remains in place. “Inexplicably, EPA’s current political leadership is still protecting a corrupt cabal of managers whose actions have been and continue to pose a danger to public health.”
PEER was not alone in raising concerns about the Telone registration decision. A collation of eight Attorneys General urged EPA to revise its health risk assessment because it “dangerously ignores science and downplays the risks individuals face when they are exposed to 1,3-D.” Similarly, California’s top eco-official also wrote to EPA condemning the “decision not to estimate plausible cancer risks.”