The Environmental Protection Agency announced new safeguards Friday to prevent conflicts of interest or bias from tainting its science, including efforts to assess the dangers of toxic chemicals.
The reforms, targeting scientific review panels selected for EPA by outside contractors, follow a Center for Public Integrity-PBS NewsHour examination revealing ties between scientists and industry on a panel reviewing hexavalent chromium, a compound commonly found in drinking water that may cause cancer.
In that case, three panelists who urged the EPA to delay potentially stricter drinking water standards had been expert witnesses for industry in hexavalent chromium litigation. The scientists denied any conflict and said their input was based on research, but the case study revealed how the EPA is unaware of potential conflicts on its own panels.
Under its own process, the Center reported, the agency turns over the job of selecting panelists to private companies, which handle conflict-of-interest reviews in secret. All information the vendors collect, including financial disclosure forms, is “considered private and non-disclosable to EPA or outside entities except as required by law,” the EPA policy says.
The changes announced Friday add more layers of review — and provide more public disclosure — to the process.
Environmental watchdogs, who had questioned EPA's existing process, say the steps are overdue.
“It brings transparency to a process that wasn’t there before,” said Francesca Grifo, a senior policy fellow and expert on scientific integrity at the Union of Concerned Scientists.