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The Inspector General report, published earlier this month, found that the agency did not follow the typical review and clearance process during the toxicity assessment for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) which was published four days before President Donald Trump left office in January 2021.
A month later, the Biden administration ordered a review for what it described as “political interference” in the assessment, according to a report first published by The Guardian.
The EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an independent oversight unit within the agency, conducted an evaluation.
The OIG report found that EPA’s actions left the public vulnerable to potential negative health impacts.
PFBS belongs to a larger group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as “forever” chemicals, commonly used in consumer kitchen utensils, food packaging, firefighting foam and industrial processes.
These chemicals can cause serious health effects, including cancer, endocrine disruption, accelerated puberty, liver and immune system damage, and thyroid changes, according to the Tap Water Database from the non-profit Environmental Working Group.
According to the OIG report: “During final clearance, a political appointee directed that a last-minute review be conducted of the uncertainty factors used to calculate toxicity values, resulting in a scientific disagreement that caused delay, confusion, and significant changes to the near-final, peer-reviewed work product.
“These changes included replacing single toxicity values with unprecedented toxicity ranges.”
This meant that companies’ cleaning up PFBS contamination could have selected less stringent standards for the job “which may have been less costly but also less protective of human health”, the report stated.
The report added: “While EPA staff expressed scientific integrity concerns about the last-minute review and risks to public health, the EPA lacked policies and procedures to address these concerns.
“Without updates to policies and procedures, the Agency cannot fulfill its commitment to scientific integrity and information quality.”
The OIG report recommended that EPA clarify if, and when, comments expressing scientific disagreement can be expressed, and make clear if and when toxicity ranges are acceptable.
The report also said that the OIG should be used as a “resource for high-profile scientific integrity concerns that relate to political interference or that assert risk to human health or the environment”.
The OIG also suggested that policies and procedures on environmental information quality be updated to require additional quality assurance reviews for EPA products.
The deputy administrator was advised to “strengthen the EPA’s culture of scientific integrity, transparency, and accountability of political leadership actions when changes occur as a result of policy decisions”.
The OIG report noted that EPA under the Biden administration disagreed with its five recommendations, and that they remain unresolved.
The Independent has contacted the EPA for comment.
The final weeks of the Trump administration were marked by a concerted effort to rollback dozens of environmental rules and regulations on everything from migratory bird protections, to expanding Arctic oil drilling.
Michael Regan, the EPA administrator appointed by President Joe Biden, said in May 2021 that officials “will continue to fix the wrongs of the past and move forward aggressively” to protect public health and the environment.