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Groups unite against US EPA 'science transparency' proposal

Organisation - EPA HQ

A wide array of groups – including medical associations, state attorneys general, scientific societies, academics and consumer and environmental advocates – have called on the US EPA to withdraw its 'science transparency' proposal.

The comments came in a 12-hour hearing hosted by the EPA in Washington, DC, on its proposed rule: Strengthening transparency in regulatory science. Formally issued in April, it seeks to ensure the studies, models and analyses the agency uses to underpin its regulatory decisions are "available to the public for validation".

But the proposal has been met with vocal opposition from a wide range of groups since news of it first broke. And the majority of testimony heard from more than 100 stakeholders reiterated concerns with the "flawed and misconceived" approach.

"In the name of transparency, it would burden EPA scientists with unnecessary and costly procedures that run counter to the agency's longstanding obligation to base public health decisions on the best available science," testified Bob Sussman, of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

Multiple speakers raised concern that the proposal would create issues around the confidentiality of medical records and study participant data. And some raised fears that the approach could have a "chilling effect" on science itself, if study participants had to be informed that their data could be made public.

Jennifer McPartland, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said the proposed ban on scientific studies where all underlying data is not made public would "effectively bar the agency from using high quality scientific research in setting public health safeguards".

In a blog post, she said this could directly threaten – among other activities – the EPA's proposed bans on certain uses of trichloroethylene and methylene chloride, as these rely on science that was peer reviewed, but not available publicly.

The EDF was one of many organisations that urged the agency to withdraw the rule.

Support

Despite these concerns, some in industry spoke in favour of certain aspects of the proposal.

The American Petroleum Institute's (API) Ted Steichen said the trade group believes data and analysis underlying regulatory decisions "should be transparent and reproducible, and available as early as possible in the rulemaking process".

Kimberly White testified on behalf of the American Chemistry Council's (ACC) formaldehyde panel in support of the proposal's consideration of non-linear dose-response modelling.

Dr White also highlighted the need for increased transparency, citing past experiences where the group had "considerable difficulty in understanding what data is being relied on and how the agency has ensured the highest quality and most relevant science is informing its decisions."

Road ahead

Beyond the hearing, more than 200,000 comments have been submitted to the public docket. More continue to stream in ahead of the 16 August deadline.

Speaking to Chemical Watch after the hearing, Veena Singla, associate director of science and policy with the University of California at San Francisco's programme of reproductive health and the environment, said that she "would certainly hope" the EPA would change course based on the stakeholder feedback.

"I can't really predict what [the EPA] may or may not do, but I think the comments... really lay out the evidence that this rule is scientifically and technically flawed and should not move forward", she said.

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