PRESS RELEASE

Lack of Scientists Dooms EPA Chemical Reviews

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, March 24, 2022
Contact:
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933 kbennett@peer.org


Lack of Scientists Dooms EPA Chemical Reviews

Crippling Staff Shortage in Chemical Safety Work Continues in 2022 Budget

 

Washington, DC —The recently approved federal budget leaves the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency programs for assessing risks of both new and existing chemicals hamstrung by an overall staff shortage as well as critical gaps in needed scientific specialties. Public health is endangered because these chemical reviews cannot be adequately performed at the current staff levels, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), which is charged with conducting risk assessments on chemicals to prevent harm to workers and consumers, has been hit by a triple whammy that the budget approved this month for the balance of FY 2022 did not address:

    • Workload more than doubled in FY2019, according to the EPA Inspector General, as new chemical assessment responsibilities under the 2016 Frank Lautenberg Act kicked in, without the addition of new staff;
    • The mass exodus of scientists during the Trump years from OPPT, as well as other EPA programs, was not replaced under Biden; and
    • The lack of EPA workforce planning and analyses to prioritize staffing decisions.

In speeches and congressional testimony, Dr. Michal Freedhoff, the Assistant Administrator overseeing the programs, estimated they have only 50% of the staff needed. Yet, the new budget provided funding for only 25 scientists, less than 7% of the estimated required workforce.

“Both the Congress and EPA are abjectly derelict in their duties in failing to address this critical shortfall,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “Protecting the public from harmful chemicals is a core EPA function that should be one of the very top priorities, not an afterthought.”

The unrealistic pressure to make chemical approvals within tight deadlines contributes to pressure from managers to eliminate or minimize hazard areas identified by scientists. The rushed, incomplete risk assessments are now the subject of an extensive Inspector General review triggered by disclosures from EPA scientists represented by PEER. Making matters worse, Congress doubled down on meeting statutory deadlines yet did not provide needed funding.

At the same time, Assistant Administrator Freedhoff has assigned a dozen scientists and a manager to provide technical assistance to the chemical industry in a program called Safer Choices. For months, EPA has declined to produce any justification for this expenditure, and today, PEER filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to force its release.

“It is unconscionable that EPA is providing assistance to the chemical industry when it lacks sufficient scientists to protect public health,” Bennett added. “EPA cannot afford to keep fiddling as Rome burns.”

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Look at lack of EPA workforce planning or analysis

Examine EPA chemical risk assessments altered to speed approval

See FOIA lawsuit for justification of Safer Choices staffing