How Biden’s Team Rushed to Dump a Trump-Era PFAS Assessment
By E.A. Cruden | E&E News | September 1, 2021
Read the full article by E.A. Cruden (E&E News)
“Trump-era EPA appointees engaged in ‘considerable political level interference’ on an assessment for a controversial ‘forever chemical,’ documents obtained by E&E News indicate.
But the Biden administration wasted no time in yanking that document, moving to scrub the assessment of alterations made by political appointees and restore language advocated by EPA career scientists shortly after the president’s inauguration.
At issue is a toxicity assessment for PFBS, part of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances family. PFBS is a replacement chemical for PFOS — one of the two most well-studied and controversial PFAS, due to health risks like cancer. The replacement compound, a surfactant, is used in manufacturing processes and to make stain-resistant coatings for various consumer items like clothes, among other purposes.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shed light on the agency back-and-forth over the toxicity assessment for PFBS, released in the last days of the Trump administration, only to be clawed back as soon as Biden took office. Staff conversations show the process of withdrawing and replacing the document came after a contentious publication process that saw significant input from political appointees, in a breach with agency processes.
In an email sent Jan. 21, shortly after Biden’s inauguration, then-head of EPA’s Office of Research and Development Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta conveyed wishes that the PFBS assessment be removed.
‘During the rush of the last administration to complete various tasks, there was a PFAS assessment on PFBS along with an internal deliberative memo from [the EPA chemicals office] that apparently were posted Tuesday,’ she wrote to Jane Nishida, then-acting EPA administrator, in an email marked with a ‘high’ importance level.
In January, anonymous EPA staffers raised concerns that the assessment had been politically compromised (Greenwire, Jan. 14).
As Biden took office, leadership in the research office and the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention immediately requested that the assessment and related documents be taken down at once, Orme-Zavaleta said. ‘The materials posted are not supported by ORD or OCSPP career scientists and violate the Agency’s scientific integrity policy. We will work to correct the document, brief new leadership then follow up with [the Office of Public Affairs] on the correct release.’
At the heart of the controversy was a significant shift from a draft assessment, which offered a reference dose — or an indicator of how much individuals can be exposed to a chemical before experiencing adverse health impacts.
A key component of deriving that reference dose are uncertainty factors, which are applied to reflect data limitations. For the PFBS assessment, uncertainty factors were crucial, given a lack of information around areas like immunotoxicity and mammary gland development. But the new document refuted any database deficiency and shifted the reference dose to a range.
While the assessment was a science, rather than regulatory, document, critics worried the change would allow for industry and government to cherry pick numbers when setting threshold levels. An EPA spokesperson confirmed to E&E News that the Biden administration ‘immediately began working with EPA’s career scientists and staff’ to withdraw and replace the document.
Orme-Zavaleta, who recently retired, meanwhile said the document published under Trump reflected ‘considerable political level interference” and became ‘a poster child for why it’s critical to have scientific integrity policies in federal government.'”…
This content provided by the PFAS Project.