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US EPA Faces Allegations of 'Egregious' Misconduct in PFAS Testing of Pesticides

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Watchdog Group and Former EPA Researcher Challenge Agency’s Findings

A watchdog group and a former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research fellow have accused the agency of presenting false information to the public about testing for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in pesticides. The allegations, made by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and environmental toxicologist Steven Lasee, suggest that the EPA may have engaged in “egregious” misconduct and cherry-picked data to support their desired conclusions.

5 Key Points

  • PEER obtained EPA documents through a FOIA request, which allegedly showed that the agency had found PFAS in tested pesticide products.
  • The EPA’s May 2023 press release stated they found no PFAS in the same pesticide products, contradicting a study by former EPA researcher Steven Lasee.
  • Lasee’s 2022 study reported finding PFAS in 6 of 10 insecticides used to grow cotton and other crops.
  • The EPA’s internal documents showed they conducted four tests, but only publicly disclosed the results of two tests that found no PFAS.
  • PEER alleges that the EPA engaged in misconduct and intentionally damaged Lasee’s reputation.

EPA’s Response and Pending Complaint Process

The EPA declined to comment on the allegations, stating that the issues relate to a pending formal complaint process. However, the agency has previously presented itself as taking a tough stance on PFAS contamination, finalizing drinking water limits and classifying two types of PFAS as hazardous substances.

Concerns Over Testing Methodology and Transparency

Lasee and PEER raised concerns about the validity of the EPA’s testing, citing numerous flaws and deviations from scientific norms. One significant issue was the agency’s failure to identify a “matrix spike” of PFOS intentionally added to the samples before analysis, which would have been detected if their methods were accurate.

Furthermore, the EPA’s internal documents revealed that they conducted four tests but only publicly disclosed the results of two tests that found no PFAS. The undisclosed tests allegedly showed evidence of PFOS and other types of PFAS.

Implications for PFAS Regulation and Public Health

The accuracy and transparency of EPA testing are crucial for regulating exposure to PFAS, which have been linked to various health problems, including cancer, immune system damage, and birth defects. The allegations against the EPA suggest a potential regulatory breakdown and raise questions about the agency’s commitment to protecting public health.

As the formal complaint process unfolds, the outcome may have significant implications for regulating PFAS in pesticides and the EPA’s credibility in addressing this critical environmental and public health issue.

 

PFAS Findings From WatchDog Group & EPA Researcher FAQ

What are PFAS, and why are they a concern?

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of chemicals used in various industries since the 1940s. Some types of PFAS have been linked to health problems such as cancer, immune system damage, and birth defects, making their regulation a critical public health issue.

 

What did Steven Lasee’s 2022 study find regarding PFAS in pesticides?

Lasee’s study, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters, reported detecting perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), a harmful type of PFAS, in 6 out of 10 insecticides used in growing cotton and other crops.

 

How did the EPA respond to Lasee’s study?

Six months after Lasee’s study, the EPA released a response stating that its scientists found no detectable levels of PFOS or any of the 28 additional PFAS they screened for in the same pesticide products. The agency claimed its equipment and methodology were better than those used by Lasee.

 

What do the documents obtained by PEER allegedly show?

According to PEER, the documents obtained through a FOIA request showed that the EPA had conducted four tests on the pesticide products but only publicly disclosed the results of two tests that found no PFAS. The undisclosed tests allegedly showed evidence of PFOS and other types of PFAS.

 

What are the potential implications of these allegations against the EPA?

The allegations suggest that the EPA may have engaged in misconduct and cherry-picked data, potentially misleading the public about the presence of PFAS in pesticides. If true, these actions could undermine the agency’s credibility and raise concerns about its commitment to protecting public health from PFAS contamination.

 

Citations:

Gillam, C. (2024, May). US regulator accused of “egregious” misconduct in PFAS testing of pesticides. The New Lede. 

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