Whistleblowers Expose Corruption in EPA Chemical Safety Office

According to four scientists working at the agency, managers and other career staff from the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention altered the chemical assessments to make them seem safer. The Intercept was provided with details by whistleblowers who were responsible for identifying potential harms caused by new chemicals. They also provided evidence that the agency tried to reduce or eliminate evidence of possible adverse effects such as neurological effects and birth defects. Multiple times, agency assessments were wiped of information regarding hazards without the permission or informing the scientists who wrote them. In some cases, the EPA was forced to withhold crucial information about chemical exposures from the public. Other cases saw the removal or alteration of scientific conclusions and reports that allowed the sale of chemicals.This article is the first in a series based on four whistleblowers' detailed allegations. They were supported by dozens internal emails with supervisors, meeting summaries and other documents. The evidence provided by the whistleblowers shows a pattern of EPA failing to comply with chemical regulation, especially the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). It also depicts a workplace where EPA employees were frequently subject to retribution for following science. The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention has failed, according to scientists who provided a statement to The Intercept and Rep. Ro Kinna (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The New Chemicals program is run in fear. Scientists are worried about retaliation for trying the Congress's intent to implement TSCA in the right way. They fear that management will retaliate and cause harm to the environment and human health.Four EPA staff members who have doctorates in toxicology and chemistry, as well as biochemistry and chemical engineering, stated that they shared the problem with colleagues and supervisors. Each scientist also filed complaints to the EPAs inspector general and the Office of Science Integrity. The latter has promised to investigate any corruption within the agency. However, most of their concerns went unresolved for months, and each case involved a risk to human life. Scientists felt obliged to report their concerns to the public because they were not being addressed. Elyse Osterweil was one of the scientists who said that she was initially reluctant to talk about the pressures she felt from her supervisors to remove any references to possible toxicity from assessments of new chemicals. Assessments, which are based on animal studies, allow the agency to determine if a chemical is a risk to human health. Osterweil was reviewing one substance in February this year. The animal studies indicated that there was a serious risk of harm. One single dose of the chemical caused rats to become lethargic, lose weight and have trouble moving. Some rats became comatose while others died. Osterweil said that there are rarely any effects from this type of acute study. Osterweil stated that there are rarely any effects in acute studies. Osterweil described her supervisor as asking me a series of questions. She wanted me to make the hazards disappear. Osterweil even suggested that she might look at the study data again to see if the hazards had disappeared. Osterweil was not going to give in to the pressure to declare the chemical safe. She said that there was a point when I thought I might just let it go and pick my battles. Martin Phillips, a chemist, was also confronted with similar resistance when he attempted to assess a mix of compounds in January 2020. One component of the product was to be used for cleaning solutions. It contained a chemical that caused birth defects in rats and miscarriage in laboratory experiments. Phillips and another risk assessmentor pointed out the development effects of the chemicals hazard assessments. These must be legally added to the chemicals safety sheet. This document is used by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to communicate risks to workers. The company that submitted the product to be approved refused to comply with the requirement. Phillips' assessment was completed, and a representative from the company, who had just finished it, met Phillipss colleagues, as well as his supervisor, whom she knew from her time at EPA. Phillips was not invited to the meeting. Phillips was not invited to the meeting. However, the EPA's computer system uploaded another assessment of the chemical without Phillips consent. The updated version did not include information on miscarriages and birth defects. Phillips requested that the original assessment be restored after he found out about the new assessment. Phillips was called passive aggressive by a senior science advisor in the office for being concerned about the assessment. Phillips complained about the removal of some information, but the warning about developmental toxicity that it could cause was not included in the safety data sheet. Phillips also had his work modified without his knowledge. Phillips was asked to evaluate a chemical in a 2019 case, even though the manufacturer hadn't submitted studies. Phillips used the toxicity numbers according to the chemical's class and followed the EPA's guidance. Phillips was able to calculate that the probable exposures to the chemical exceeded the safety limit of the agency by more than 15,000 times after entering the correct values. Phillips noticed three months later that a new assessment had been uploaded to EPA's computer system. The new assessment, which was not in line with guidelines, found that the chemical only presented a slight danger and that workers could reduce the risk by using protective gear. In August 2020, the second assessment concluded that the chemical was not likely to cause harm. Phillips stated that the chemical was now safe at a dose of 15,000 times. The Company: All four scientists agreed with Phillips that there was more pressure to minimize the danger of chemicals during their time at the division. Sarah Gallagher, who joined Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention) in May 2019, said that there was an increase in pressure to use incorrect exposure metrics. The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention also houses the Office of Pesticide Programs. Gallagher objected to changes in multiple risk assessment between March 2020 and June 2020. Her supervisors requested that she represent the developmental effects one chemical had on pregnant women as effects on them. This included the reduction in fetal weight in animal studies. This would have meant that the safety data sheet would not reflect the potential risk to the developing human foetus from the chemical. Gallagher declined to make this change.She was then reassigned to another job one month later. Documents she had created while working in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention were still being altered. This included an assessment of a PFAS chemical. She had looked at studies of similar-structured compounds as a EPA policy because there was not much information. Gallagher pointed out that PFOA is an industrial chemical that can cause cancer as well as developmental problems. One of her former supervisors had asked another scientist to remove PFOA's mention from her assessment and replace it by another less toxic chemical in order to measure its safety. Gallagher claims that the change led to a 33-fold underestimation in the compound's risk. William Irwin was another whistleblower who worked for the EPA as a toxicologist for more than 11 years. He was repeatedly resisting the pressure to alter his assessments in favor of industry. Irwin stated that although it seemed obvious that pressure was coming from chemical companies, the science advisor in the office made this clear in a dispute over a particular chemical assessment. Irwin described the science advisor as shouting at him to change the assessment. He was trying to convince him to remove the hazards in the assessment. Irwin said that he was siding with the company and shouted at me that the company had gone apeshit after seeing this assessment.He was basically siding with the company.