(Beyond Pesticides, January 26, 2017) In a startling move that puts independent science at odds with government, the Trump administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team stated on Wednesday that scientists will now face “an unspecified vetting process before sharing their work outside the agency.” However, this kind of review is at odds with EPA’s own scientific integrity policy, which “prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other Agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.”
This comes on the heels of an announcement by the administration several days ago issuing scientific grant and hiring freezes at EPA nationwide, along with effectively banning science communications through social media platforms. According to ProPublica, an EPA employee stated that, “Hiring freezes happen, but freezes on grants and contracts seemed extraordinary.” These grants are used for financial support to complete environmental testing, remediation and environmental improvement projects across the country. Additionally, on Friday, January 20, after Donald Trump was officially sworn in, he ordered a freeze on all pending regulations from the Obama administration. This included the listing of the rusty patched bumblebee as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which had been set to take effect February 10, 2017 and now has an uncertain future.
Independent science is critical to understanding the toxicology of chemicals that are allowed to be introduced into the environment and the food supply. This information is necessary to influence state and local decision makers to act over industry-dominated regulatory decisions that assume the necessity of toxic materials, driven by companies with a vested economic interest.
The ability of publicly-funded scientists to conduct and disseminate unbiased research is a key component to our democracy and to the ability of regulators to effectively protect public health and the environment. In addition to the attempts to attack independent science conducted by government researchers, university scientists have faced criticism and assaults on their work. In an effort to ensure that the essential independent scientific research on pesticides is not thwarted by the chemical industry, Beyond Pesticides launched The Fund for Independent Science. This fund, catalyzed by the 2013 announcement that Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D. lost university funding for his laboratory and research, is set up and run by Beyond Pesticides. Make a pledge today to enable the important research by independent scientists.
Beyond Pesticides serves as a watchdog of federal and state agencies, which institutionalize “acceptable” levels of public exposure to harmful pesticides known to cause chronic health effects, such as cancer, neurological and immune system disorders.
As a representative member of the Environmental/Public Interest stakeholder group of the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC), Beyond Pesticides is able to provide independent advice to EPA that represents the views of Beyond Pesticides and our members. Through this committee, EPA and Beyond Pesticides foster meaningful communication in understanding a wide range of pesticide issues, many of which are scientifically and technically complex. Additionally, Beyond Pesticides continuously sends comments on pesticide policies to \EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as state and local agencies.
In light of the attacks on science and communications with the U.S. public under the new Trump administration, it is important to consider the role that EPA fulfills for the country. EPA began operating in 1970 after President Nixon signed it into law through an executive order, to maintain and enforce national standards for numerous environmental laws, including the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. However, EPA has a long history of registering pesticides without adequately analyzing human and environmental health data.
Beyond Pesticides has for years said that EPA’s general registration process is flawed because the agency does not evaluate whether hazards are “unreasonable” in light of the availability of safer practices or products. Additionally, Beyond Pesticides continues to urge EPA to take a more precautionary approach, given the history of incomplete data or assessments which can lead to mitigation measures decades after widespread pesticide use was approved. With some chronic endpoints, such as endocrine disruption, the agency has not adequately assessed chemicals for certain health risks.
Statements and actions of the Trump administration since taking office will make it increasingly difficult to keep health and environmental protections from backsliding. As implementation of federal environmental and public health law is weakened, the gap in protection grows and increased responsibility falls to local decision makers who can no longer rely on a regulatory system to protect their community’s health, water safety, and environment. We encourage concerned citizens to become part of this public process by contacting your representatives, writing comments to submit to the public docket, and becoming active in local efforts on pesticide reform. By elevating your voice in these ways, you put pressure on government officials to increase citizen safeguards and hold pesticide manufacturers accountable.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.