Four scientists who work in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention are continuing to accuse higher-ups at the agency of compromising the scientific integrity of chemical assessments it produces, stepping up their allegations.
Last month, the scientists asserted that managers at the EPA’s chemical safety office have ‘improperly altered’ safety assessments of new and existing chemicals for years. And now they allege in a new disclosure that top brass at the agency are prohibiting them from seeking the expert input of colleagues on new chemicals safety assessments.
The US non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), which represents the four EPA whistleblowers, says they are concerned that this ban on communication with other specialists is hampering safety assessments of new chemicals before they are rushed to market.
‘In their disclosure, scientists recounted being reprimanded for reaching out to other employees for advice and confirmation of their work,’ Peer states, emphasising that this issue is critical because the EPA’s new chemicals division does not have sufficient staff trained in key specialty areas involved in chemical risk assessment, such as inhalation toxicology, nanotechnology and cancer biology. Therefore, the organisation says, the best way to fill in knowledge gaps is by consulting with other specialists.
This prohibition on conferring with co-workers who have previous experience with particular chemicals leads to needless duplication of work at the EPA, and it wastes staff time as well as taxpayer dollars, Peer argues. The organisation is calling on the agency’s head of chemical safety and pollution prevention, Michal Freedhoff, to adopt a policy prohibiting restrictions on intra-agency communications. Peer is also urging her to discipline managers responsible for putting in place the prohibition in question.
Although the organisation would not provide a copy of the newest disclosure, Peer says in it the EPA scientists recount that key managers at the agency frequently jump between their government jobs and the chemical industry, often ignore risk indicators and intimidate staff into signing off on chemical assessments with insufficient data to reach a conclusion.
For its part, the EPA is pushing back against these allegations, insisting that its chemical safety office has no rule that prevents internal information sharing.
‘This is not a policy within the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention,’ said EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll in a statement. ‘This administration is committed to ensuring that science is the backbone of everything we do as an agency,’ he added. ‘That includes a steadfast commitment to fostering a culture that promotes an open exchange and collaboration amongst all employees and includes coordinating with their management chain as appropriate so supervisors are aware of what staff are working on.’
Meanwhile, Peer says it is receiving additional information from scientists who used to work with the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, or currently work there, and it is likely that four more disclosures will be filed shortly.