Report: EPA withheld health risks from human test subjects

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not consistently disclose health risks to human test subjects it used to study the risks of pollutants, sometimes keeping information about cancer possibilities from participants, the agency’s internal watchdog said Wednesday.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the agency obtained the proper approvals from participants before exposing them to airborne exhaust and diesel pollutants, including particulate matter, in 2010 and 2011. However, the consent forms were inconsistent in their disclosures and did not warn of potential long-term risks of exposure to the gases.

ADVERTISEMENT
“This was because they only planned to perform short-term exposures and the risk of getting cancer from a single two-hour exposure was minimal,” the OIG said, citing information from an EPA manager who said health risks are calculated for 40 years of exposure.

The OIG found that the agency's research estimated a three in one billion chance of cancer from exposure.

“In our view, the agency should inform study subjects of any potential cancer risks of a pollutant to which they are being exposed so that study subjects can make the most informed decision possible about whether to participate in a study,” the report said.

The EPA considers particulate matter to lead to premature death, and has issued regulations to reduce its emissions.

Sen. David Vitter (La.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the EPA, said the report shows the agency’s issues with science and transparency. His committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee have worked for years to find problems with the science the EPA uses to justify its controversial regulations.

“When justifying a job-killing regulation, EPA argues exposure to particulate matter is deadly, but when they are conducting experiments, they say human exposure studies are not harmful,” Vitter said in a statement. “This is a prime example of how EPA handpicks what scientific information and uncertainties they use to support their overreaching agenda.”

The EPA said in a statement it followed all necessary laws, but agrees with the OIG’s finding that changing its practices could be helpful.

“EPA concurs with and is adopting the OIG’s recommendations to ensure its policies and procedures are strengthened even further,” spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said.

Bob Kavlock, EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for science, wrote a blog post Wednesday defending the agency’s actions and saying it would incorporate the recommendations. 

More in Energy & Environment

Nike, IKEA join 221 companies in backing EPA’s climate rule

Read more »