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House committee seeks information on EPA chemical reviews amid reports of interference

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Washington — Citing recent media reports of alleged unethical conduct within the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, a delegation from the House Energy and Commerce Committee is asking the agency to provide insight into the matter.

In a letter dated Aug. 17 and sent to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, E&C Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ); Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee; and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), chair of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, reference respective reports published in July in The Intercept and The New York Times in which four whistleblowers claim that OCSPP “downplayed the dangers of new chemicals” and allege “inappropriate interference” occurred with chemical risk assessments conducted under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, as well as the agency’s new chemicals program.

The reports further allege that EPA employees were “pressured to downplay evidence” of some chemicals’ potential adverse health effects, while the agency’s scientific staff was “subject to retaliation,” the lawmakers write.

“The committee has a longstanding interest in ensuring EPA’s implementation of TSCA is based on sound science,” the letter states. “We also firmly believe EPA’s scientific staff must be able to perform their work of protecting human health and the environment free from inappropriate interference and retaliation. The allegations made by the four whistleblowers are troubling and, if true, raise serious concerns about EPA’s implementation of TSCA and about protections for EPA employees.”

The lawmakers make multiple requests of Regan, seeking feedback by Aug. 31 on “the issues raised by the whistleblowers” in the reports, as well as the following:

  • Describe EPA’s understanding as to the veracity of the complaints raised by the whistleblowers regarding interference in the chemical program. Also, explain what actions, if any, EPA has taken to look into these allegations.
  • Is EPA considering reevaluating any chemicals in light of concerns that their review process may have been subject to interference or that they may include precursors to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances? If so, describe the process and timeline for any reevaluation.
  • Does EPA have any ongoing or planned efforts to review and strengthen whistleblower protections at the agency? If so, describe these efforts, including the EPA office responsible for these improvements and any associated timelines.

An EPA spokesperson told Safety+Health that the agency “looks forward to reviewing the request from the committee and will respond accordingly,” adding that “retaliation against EPA employees for reporting violations alleged to have occurred will not be tolerated in this administration.”

 

The spokesperson continued: “EPA takes seriously all allegations of violations of scientific integrity. EPA’s scientific integrity official and scientific integrity team members will thoroughly investigate any allegation of violation of EPA’s scientific integrity policy that they receive and work to safeguard EPA science.”

In response to recent Executive Orders and directives from the Biden administration, EPA in June announced changes to chemical risk evaluation policies under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act to “position EPA to move forward with actions to ensure the public is protected from unreasonable risks from chemicals in a way that is supported by science and the law.”

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