War on Science Persists Within Biden EPA as Staffers Allege Chemical Reports Altered

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Yves here. It’s a virtually daily occurrence for a post author or member of the commentariat to point out that Biden promised that if he were elected, nothing fundamental would change. We see Biden delivering yet again.

By Julia Conley, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

Four scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency are alleging that the “war on science” is continuing under the Biden administration, with managers at the agency altering reports about the risks posed by chemicals and retaliating against employees who report the misconduct.

The government watchdog Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a formal complaint Friday on behalf of the scientists with the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General, calling for an investigation into reports that high-level employees routinely delete crucial information from chemical risk assessments or change the documents’ conclusions to give the impression that the chemicals in question are not toxic.

The group also wrote to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Environment, calling on lawmakers to work with the inspector general to investigate the allegations.

The report follows outrage about officials in the Trump administration covering up scientific facts by deleting the EPA’s climate change website, but PEER emphasized that the problem is persisting at the agency six months into President Joe Biden’s term.

“These alterations of risk assessments are not just artifacts of the Trump administration; they are continuing on a weekly basis,” said Kyla Bennett, science policy director at PEER who formerly worked at the EPA.

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency is responsible for evaluating the risks of existing chemicals as well as those slated to be manufactured in or imported to the United States.

The four employees said in the complaint that they’ve observed “numerous instances” in which significant changes were made to their own assessments, including:

  • The removal of language identifying possible adverse effects of chemicals, including developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, mutagenicity, and/or carcinogenicity;
  • Changes to report conclusions to indicate that there are no signs of toxicity “despite significant data to the contrary”; and
  • Risk assessments being reassigned to inexperienced employees “to secure their agreement to remove issues whose inclusion would be protective of human health.”

“The resulting Material Safety Data Sheets lack information vital to prevent harmful exposures, such as proper handling procedures, personal protection needed, accidental release measures, first aid, and firefighting measures,” said PEER.

In one case, managers increased the dose considered safe for consumption for a certain chemical by nearly 10,000-fold, according to The Hill.

“All of these altered assessments need to be pulled back and corrected in order to protect both workers handling chemicals and the American public,” said Bennett.

According to PEER, staff scientists at EPA have spent months raising concerns internally and filing a formal complaint on their own—only to face “harassment from managers named in the complaints.”

Hours after PEER filed the complaint on Friday, the organization said, the four whistleblowers’ names were released internally at the EPA in “a troubling move” by someone at the agency.

“Whistleblowers help protect us all—we must protect them,” PEER said.

The organization called on the inspector general to “identify all the alterations and restore the correct risk information,” and to dismiss the civil service managers found responsible for the misconduct in the investigation.

“EPA’s lack of accountability for scientific misconduct poses a direct danger to public health,” said Bennett. “Inside EPA, scientific integrity has become an oxymoron and a cure will require a complete overhaul.”

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  1. Blargh

    Yikes! Trying to understand how someone could be ok with doing this? Is greed the only motivation here?

    1. The Historian

      It is really very simple: These chemicals are made by corporations who don’t want to be challenged on the safety of their products. This happened in the agency I used to work for, where all the PhD’s and other experts were demoted or fired so that my agency no longer had the ability to refute or even question what the corporations were telling us – and this was under Obama.

      1. Societal Illusions

        yet more evidence of corporate capture.

        what percentage of posts here identify such corruption and malfeasance?

        my sense is there are more of these, not less.

        how and when does it ever stop, or at least become less vs more?

        whatever we are doing now, all of us, clearly isn’t working.

    2. Peter

      List their names and fire them, if that cannot be done protest at each of their homes. Investigate and prosecute with potential jail time for these criminals and enemies of humanity. There is no time left for this BS in the battle against climate change – the greatest and most significant WAR humanity has ever fought. Although I have to be truthful in acknowledging that we have not even started. The bureaucracy says it is a difficult, complex project and it will be hard, tough maybe impossible. Well as the great Roman Stoic Seneca once said ( I am paraphrasing ) it is NOT difficult, hard and all the other excuses – it is DIFFICULT because we HAVE NOT TRIED YET.

  2. Ignacio

    Foxes in charge of the hen-house. Isn’t it?
    Mr. Dotheleast Ican Biden must be happy, but thinking what mistake was even to create those annoying regulatory bodies that needed to be turned into ‘yes bwana’ bodies

  3. Susan the other

    And our dear leaders are ever pretending to be pious, honest servants of the people. They just can’t understand why there is no public trust in them whatsoever.

  4. KLG

    Distressing but not surprising. I worked in a heavy chemical plant in my late teens, not long after OSHA became a thing. The Clean Water Act was relatively new, and EPA was coming into its own. The recent amendment to the Clean Air Act was beginning to bite. As a bright-eyed neophyte, I could see how things changed for the better, even as long-time workers groused about the new rules (coveralls mandatory in the plant, goggles, safety rails, chain guards for large mixers, real-time monitoring of effluents, regular urinalysis of all employees to monitor exposure to a host of nasty chemicals, audits of chemicals used in production). “Profit” may have declined less than a percentage point in this plant, but with employee, community, and environmental benefits that dwarfed the cost of sensible regulations. Such as “You will account for every kilogram of mercury (2.6 fluid ounces) used in the process.” But the other side plays the long game to win…and win they do. Depending on the definition of “win.”

  5. ambrit

    Having worked on commercial construction projects I can attest to the importance of the Material Safety Data Sheets. So many chemicals are used on a daily basis on job sites across the country. No one person can reasonably be assumed to have all the pertinent information concerning various chemicals, their risks, and the proper handling of them and spills of said chemicals easily in their head. Thus, the MSDS is the first line of defence against toxic and otherwise dangerous substances.
    Every decent sized job site has to have a book of the MSDS of all chemicals used on the job available to all, usually in the job manager’s on site office or trailer. I have had to look up chemicals, (in response to spills or inhalation accidents,) and the MSDS is the “Bible” of such information.
    If the MSDS sheets are now ‘corrupt,’ then we sink into a situation where the lives of the workers have been deemed “disposable.”
    I will go way out on a limb here and say that somewhere in America, a worker has been killed due to “fake news” disguised as safety information on the MSDS sheets. The solution here is obvious; find whoever is responsible for this and have them shot, live on television. This is one subject where the Chinese are light years ahead of the West. The public must see concrete action in their best interests for them to hold any trust in the governing institutions.

    1. Ghost in the Machine

      Every scientific laboratory is also required to have MSDS sheets printed out and easily available in a binder. Everyone has to know where it is in case of an inspection. We were always given a warning when that would be.

  6. ambrit

    Short version: Those MSDS sheets are ‘life or death’ instructions in an emergency on a job site.

    1. chris

      They’re also planning documents. You need to know what’s coming on site to plan for possible consequences of other materials interacting with it, as well as what you need to handle exposures.

      1. ambrit

        Yes indeed. Any job large enough to have a site safety officer on it will have the MSDS book in that person’s office as well as out in the manager’s office ‘common room.’ The MSDS are mandated to be freely available to all who work on the site.
        My experience was that the MSDS sheets would show up on the board after the chemicals had entered the job site. I never got to know the Safety Officer as a rule. Alas, that person was treated just like the dreaded Quality Control officer was treated; with fear and apprehension. Why? Because those two people could put anyone on the job site “in a world of hurt” if they wanted. Roughly, those two were bulwarks against the spread of “stupid” on the job site. Now, as anyone who has been on a construction site for more than just a Disney Cruise will know, there is a H— of a lot of “stupid” sloshing around there. (Adding, that “stupid” is no respecter of status.)
        Sounds like our present political establishment, doesn’t it.

  7. Telee

    I had worked for some time at the PA. Dept. of Environmental Protection. In the section that did measurement of radiation, samples which were yielding high counts of radioactivity were sometimes observed. With these samples the higher ups often told us to not report these values and another sample would be sent ASAP. The values of the replacement samples were then found to be clean and those were the reported values. In Air Quality, incinerators needing approval which were to be built in poor urban neighborhoods and known to release toxic compounds were authorized even though employees wouldn’t sign off because they knew cancers and sickness would result and didn’t want their name on the approval. So built into “normal” functioning was that results from the labs were scrutinized by management and changed to the results which were desired. Yes, that’s business as usual. The health of people is not the primary consideration.

  8. drumlin woodchuckles

    How many of the warriors-against-science within EPA were new people put there by Biden?

    As against . . . how many of the warriors-against-science within EPA are holdovers, left-behinds and embeds from the various Republican Administrations who put them there?

    The answer to that question might lead us to take one approach as against another for dealing with the warriors-against-science within the EPA.

    For example if they are all holdover Republican embed left-behinds, they are probably too anchored in and protected to be fired. But maybe a special EPA office for studying chemical hazards in the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge could be created, with an office on Adak Island and another office on Rat Island, and all the hostile embeds could be transferred physically to those two offices, or allowed to resign if they don’t want to be transferred.

    1. John Emerson

      This research organization could be HUGE. I’m thinking 10,000 – 20, 000 researcher from every branch of government, equipped with various sorts of discontinued and obsolete computers and phones. Because you can’t fire anyone.

      The Aleutians are the right ambience, but too small probably.

      1. ambrit

        Repurpose unused cruise ships for the purpose. The “exiled” can both work and live aboard. This will both do “The Gods’ Work” and bail out foundering cruise lines. Win-win.
        Add in a few “maritime disasters,” (the North Pacific is notoriously stormy,) and you have the best of all worlds.
        A few months aboard one of the “Pacific Survey Service” liners will make one and all involved positively hope for reassignment to “Guilliam’s Brazil Survey” fleet.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        I read that Area 51 is big. Put up thousands of FEMA shelters at Area 51 and call them offices, and send the holdover embeds there. Or let them resign from their positions, leaving refillable holes.

    2. JTMcPhee

      That process of embedding corposhills in the EPA started with Reagan. I was an enforcement attorney and then assistant Regional counsel in EPA’s Chicago office when the Reaganauts swept in, in 1981. One first thing they did was a purge of the EPA regional library, where all kinds of studies and discharge and emissions reports were housed. These were used by public interest people to check on compliance and inform the public about threats to public health and the environment, beyond the EPA’s vetted pronouncements. The Rs established a “blue book” that listed pro and anti-corporate scientists, and in fairly short order the antis found themselves discharged or sent to meaningless tasks. Another action was to send around a memo telling us to stop referring enforcement actions for prosecution by the equally corrupted DOJ — henceforth, we were directed, we were to understand that the EPA was now a “customer service organization, “ snd our customers were the corporations. This was all in accordance with the Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate For Leadership” manual listing about every corrupting revision to federal regulatory clout in favor of corporate interests. https://www.amazon.com/Mandate-Leadership-Principles-Government-Strengthen/dp/0891951148

      There’s a pretty good book about it, “Season of Spoils,” which is kind of hard to come by these days.

      The rot in the EPA has carried forward from that time with ever greater intensity. There are likely still some plants from the original Reagan bunch though most have likely retired or moved on. Broke my heart to watch this happen. But the Powell Memorandum has worked its dark magic and the forces of goodness have failed or been co-opted.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Only the top level of agencies consist of political appointees. The rank and file are career members. However, over time, the ones with the wrong views can have their lives made miserable.

  9. Bob

    This is how the government (gobermint) regs can actually make the work place not to mention the world a safer place.
    And yes the system can be gamed with the toxins pushed downstream.

    Unfortunately those downstream can suffer through no fault of their own.

    Look no further than the common weed killers.

  10. KLG

    A Material Safety Data Sheet for benzene is here.

    And what Ghost said, but we are not given a warning when the inspection will come.

  11. Adam Eran

    Honestly… Biden was part of the Obama administration, elected because of the public’s revulsion at Bush 43’s war crime (the war in Iraq). Obama not only didn’t prosecute the Bush/Cheney war crimes, he promoted those who supervised torture and prosecuted the whistle blowers. More of the same, piled higher and deeper.

  12. Kris Alman

    Whether it’s clean-up of a superfund project (like the Willamette River in Oregon, where I live) or other environmental messes that affect the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food we eat, the culprits aren’t held accountable.

    I found this EPA document, “Environmental Insurance and Risk Management Tools
    Glossary of Terms”:
    Environmental Impairment Liability (EIL) Policies – Insurance policies introduced in the early 1990s designed to cover environmental liabilities. Due to high premiums and limited coverage, EIL policies were soon discontinued.
    Comprehensive General Liability (CGL) Insurance – This policy provides broad protection against situations in which a business must defend itself against lawsuits or pay damages for bodily injury or property damage from third party claims. CGL contracts are enforced and interpreted based on state law. CGL insurance has become more restrictive over time; therefore, it rarely covers environmental liabilities.

    But shouldn’t we be grateful that these negative externalities drive up the GDP!

    1. John Emerson

      Around 1970 I worked at a small electropolishing /plating in Portland. Lots of toxicity, metals and misc. fluids used. A friend told me that waste went directly into the sewers at 3 am on holiday weekends, lights out.

      Decades later I ran into a friend now with the Oregon EPA, and he said that this company had fought them for decades, every trick in the book.

      Nice old couple, family business, pillars of the community. Heartwarming, really.

  13. VietnamVet

    This post is about the faint poundings coming from deep in the pile of the collapsed government regulatory scheme that was dismantled by the multi-national monopolistic corporate take-over of the western nation state as a result of the Reagan/Thatcher counter revolt.

    Corporations went along with the 1970’s environmental/safety laws and regulations because they stifled competition and gave an imprint that the government acceptance which meant that they could say that their products were safe to the public when used as directed. Decades later, after industry consolidation, there is no competition except perhaps from China who is buying itself into the technology. Corporations literally don’t give a damn if their products are safe or not. Only profits matter. Bayer got burned buying Monsanto by not realizing there are vestiges of the US judicial system still working. Jury nullification bit them for millions in dollars for claims that glyphosate causes cancer even though the EPA says it is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

    The most astonishing example is the FDA’s emergency approval of the injection of mRNA gene therapy into half of all Americans due to COVID-19 pandemic without any safety or efficacy data. Even worse, is the lack of any systematic follow-up surveillance for side effects or the efficacy of the shots. It is clear now that there are side effects and the “vaccines” don’t work as well as the PR says. The risks of two shots of the mRNA vaccine out way the benefits to adolescent boys. But the use continues in the USA anyway. Israel documented that once it reopened, mRNA jabs efficacy at stopping transmission dropped to 64%.

    This is what happens when there is revolving door regulatory capture.

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