Fumigant Decision Shows EPA Science at Its Worst

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Tuesday, October 18, 2022
Kyla Bennett,, 508-230-9933


Fumigant Decision Shows EPA Science at Its Worst

EPA Doubles Down on Mistakes Despite Whistleblower and IG Critiques 


Washington, DC —After a devastating exposé confirmed by its Inspector General, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still wants to plow ahead with a dangerously unwarranted downgrade of the cancer risk of a popular pesticide, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). If finalized, the agency action will put thousands of agricultural workers at increased cancer risk.

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.

Yet, this July, EPA’s own Office of Inspector General found, in response to a PEER complaint, that this downgrade was inappropriate. The Inspector General based its conclusions on several grounds, including that EPA had –

    • Failed to conduct a competent literature search;
    • Violated its own peer review and transparency procedures, even as it met with the Telone manufacturer multiple times without entering those meetings into the official pesticide-registration review docket; and
    • Overrode key internal controls and insisted on using a novel assessment technique the National Academy of Sciences found was “too vague and is of little scientific use.”

“Incredibly, rather than fix these problems, EPA continues to defend the indefensible,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “This action makes a mockery out of EPA’s current political appointees’ repeated pledges of scientific integrity.”

In response to the Inspector General report, EPA disagreed with three of the report’s nine recommendations, including conducting an external peer review on its cancer-risk assessment. Yet, for those recommendations that EPA did accept, it chose to delay their implementation. Thus, EPA has still not conducted “a comprehensive literature search that identifies all published scientific studies concerning the potential carcinogenicity” of 1,3-D.

“Why does EPA insist on proceeding with this chemical despite not having done a proper literature search or subjecting its unique assessment to outside peer review?” asked Bennett. “The only two plausible explanations are an appalling incompetence or willful corruption; explanations that are not mutually exclusive but equally appalling.”

In public comments filed today, PEER urges to withdraw this proposed decision until the agency has completed the Inspector General’s full recommendations.


Read the PEER comments

View EPA’s proposal 

See the Inspector General report and EPA’s response

Look at the PEER whistleblower complaint

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