Three senior United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) managers altered scientific documents to support the EPA’s decision to extend the registration of the herbicide dicamba in 2018, contrary to EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy.
That’s the conclusion of the EPA’s office of inspector general (OIG) in its report released May 24.
The EPA’s decision to extend dicamba’s registration was later overturned by a federal Appeals Court.
Why it matters: The Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides in the United States to ensure public and environmental safety, is supposed to do so based on science, openly and transparently and without political or other types of interference.
While the weed killer is popular with many American farmers trying to control herbicide-tolerant weeds by planting dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans, it is also controversial because it sometimes volatilizes and damages nearby crops and vegetation, sparking numerous complaints and lawsuits.
“While division-level management review is part of the typical (EPA’s) operating procedure, (EPA) interviewees said that senior leaders in the (EPA’s) OCSPP’s (Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention) immediate office were more involved in the dicamba decision than in other pesticide registration decisions,” the OIG’s report said. “This led to senior-level changes to, or omissions from scientific documents. For instance, these documents excluded some conclusions initially assessed by staff scientists to address stakeholder risks. We also found that staff felt constrained or muted in sharing their concerns on the dicamba registrations.”
The OIG report notes that, according to the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy, the agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment depends upon the integrity of the science. To that end, EPA scientists and managers are expected to “represent agency scientific activities clearly, accurately, honestly, objectively, thoroughly, without political or other interference, and in a timely manner, consistent with their official responsibilities.”
The OIG found that the EPA did not conduct the required internal peer review of scientific documents created to support the dicamba decision.
The former deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the former deputy assistant administrator for Law and Policy, and former acting principal deputy assistant administrator were more involved in the dicamba decision than in other pesticide registration decisions, the OIG report says. Changes they made “left the decision (on dicamba registration) legally vulnerable, resulting in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacating the 2018 registrations for violating FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) by substantially understating some risks and failing to acknowledge others entirely,” the OIG report says.
The OIG recommended that the EPA’s assistant administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention:
- Require senior managers or policy-makers to document changes to scientific opinions, analyses, and conclusions in interim and final pesticide registration decisions, as well as the basis for changes.
- Require an assistant administrator-level verification statement that Scientific Integrity Policy requirements were reviewed and adhered to during pesticide registration decisions involving the immediate office.
- Annually conduct and document training for all staff, senior managers and policy-makers to affirm the office’s commitment to the Scientific Integrity Policy and principles and to promote a culture of scientific integrity.
Two recommendations are resolved with corrective actions pending, and one recommendation is unresolved, the OIG report said.