EPA Announces Steps Intended to Enhance Scientific Integrity and Strengthen New Chemical Safety Reviews
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) announced on October 14, 2021, several actions intended to enhance scientific integrity, including establishing two internal science policy advisory councils, creating a new senior-level career position to serve as a science policy advisor to the Assistant Administrator, and making further improvements to policies and procedures. The announcement includes the following actions:
- New OCSPP Science Policy Council and New Science Policy Advisor Position: OCSPP is forming a new internal advisory group, the OCSPP Science Policy Council, to provide advisory support and recommendations on science policy and scientific integrity issues that arise within its Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) and Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP). The OCSPP Science Policy Council will be chaired by a science policy advisor, a newly created position. The science policy advisor will report to the OCSPP Assistant Administrator, provide guidance on emerging science policy and scientific integrity matters, and serve as the deputy scientific integrity official for OCSPP. OCSPP states that the OCSPP Science Policy Council will provide an advisory perspective on matters related to scientific integrity; identify scientific questions that are of broad interest within OCSPP for informal review and, as appropriate, recommend a process for further addressing them; and foster informal opportunities for scientific collaboration within OCSPP. Members chosen to address specific issues or questions will be selected based on their expertise and impartiality on the issue or question, and they may include EPA experts outside of OCSPP. OCSPP notes that the group is not intended to replace or otherwise interfere with EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy, the Scientific Integrity Official’s role, or the Inspector General’s role.
- Strengthening New Chemical Safety Reviews: According to OCSPP, as part of its broader review of policies and procedures to ensure the program effectively implements the Biden Administration’s executive orders, other directives, and principles of scientific integrity, OCSPP’s New Chemicals Division (NCD) engaged in a top-to-bottom effort to catalogue, prioritize, and improve its standard operating procedures (SOP), decision making, and recordkeeping practices related to review and management of new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). OCSPP states that to date, NCD has inventoried and reviewed over 100 different SOPs, guidances, and science policies, and prioritized those that NCD expects to be updated over the next year. Several policy changes have already been implemented, including stopping harmful new per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from entering the market and procedures to strengthen the review of new chemicals and ensure worker safety.
- New Chemicals Advisory Committee: According to OCSPP, NCD has formed the New Chemicals Advisory Committee (NCAC) that, similar to other long-standing internal advisory bodies within OCSPP, will serve as an advisory body to review both scientific and science policy issues related to new chemical submissions subject to TSCA. If differing opinions cannot be resolved through the human health risk assessment process improvements described below, the NCAC and OCSPP Science Policy Council could provide additional opportunities for further consideration.
- Human Health Risk Assessment Process Improvements: According to OCSPP, NCD solicited feedback from staff and implemented important changes to its process for reviewing and issuing final human health risk assessments. The new process provides additional opportunities for resolution of differing scientific opinions and invites input to the decision-making process to be provided by EPA subject matter experts outside of NCD.
- Enhanced Recordkeeping Requirements: Proper documentation of decisions and of any differing scientific opinions of those decisions is a significant component of EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy. OCSPP states that it has implemented some changes to its procedures to ensure improved documentation of decisions and is in the process of further review to identify additional improvements, if any, including for new chemicals human health risk assessments.
- Workplace Climate Assessment: In September 2021, with the support of an independent contractor, OCSPP launched a workplace climate assessment of the NCD to obtain feedback from employees and management about any potential workplace barriers and opportunities for organizational improvement. OCSPP states that this effort will expand to other parts of OCSPP over the coming months. OCSPP leadership will use the feedback collected to understand, evaluate, and, if necessary, make changes in its work practices and culture to promote collaboration and enhance the science used in its program decision making.