EPA Watchdog finds PFBS toxicity value was altered in 2021 report

Trump administration appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) meddled in agency science to weaken the toxicity assessment of a dangerous chemical, a new report by the US body’s internal watchdog has found.

In response to what it labeled “political interference”, the Biden administration in February 2021 pulled the assessment, republished it months later using what it said is sound science, and declared it had resolved the issue.

But EPA scientists who spoke to the Guardian say several employees willingly worked with the Trump appointees to weaken the assessment, and they were never reprimanded or fired.

The scientists say the controversy is part of a deeper problem afflicting the EPA: industry influence on career staff, and an unwillingness from the EPA to address it.

“The issue is part of the larger rot at the agency of career staff working with industry to weaken the EPA,” a current agency scientist familiar with the situation said. The scientist did not use their name for fear of reprisal.

The controversy centered around a 2021 toxicity report for PFBS, a type of PFAS compound that is toxic at low levels. Research has linked the chemical to kidney disease, reproductive problems and thyroid damage, and it has been found throughout the environment, including in an estimated 860,000 Americans’ drinking water.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment, and are a growing health hazard.

In its recent report, the EPA’s office of inspector general described “unprecedented” interference by former Trump-appointed EPA chief Andrew Wheeler and other political appointees, who ordered the alteration of the PFBS toxicity value just as the assessment was about to be published in late 2020. The revised assessment went live just four days before Trump left office in 2021.

The assessment would have been used by regulators to establish drinking-water quality standards and other environmental cleanup targets that companies must meet when addressing pollution. Instead of a specific target number, Wheeler ordered a range of toxicity values for PFBS, which meant companies required to clean up pollution could choose to leave higher levels of the chemical in the environment.

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