Hazardous Science and Regulation at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

I worked for the U.S. EPA from 1979 to 2004, spending most of my time with the program dealing with pesticides.

It did not take me long to figure out that the EPA was reeling from the scandal of the Industrial Bio-test Laboratory, IBT. People would whisper in the corridors about fake lab studies. They would wonder aloud about the safety of our food.

IBT was the country's largest testing lab from the 1950s to 1970s. Taking advantage of the legal requirements for animal studies for the licensing of drugs and chemicals, IBT became a huge national business, testing about 40 percent of America's drugs, pesticides and other chemicals.

Animal studies, morally repugnant in many cases, when done honestly, reveal the danger or potential for harm of the substances fed the experimental animals -- mice, rats, rabbits and dogs. If the animal develops cancer from eating a farm spray in its food, watch out: Humans would probably become cancer victims from eating food treated with that chemical.

Government regulators are crippled and blind without that picture or with a fake picture. Their decisions are then no better than the actions of witch doctors or executioners. The entire society becomes the real guinea pig for the perpetual stream of toxins of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

IBT did that for more than 25 years. Until 1976 when a government pathologist uncovered its gangsterism, IBT was the chemical and pharmaceutical industries' dirty grocery store, enabling them and agribusiness to sell hazardous drugs and food to the American people.

The trouble with IBT was that it was much more than a scandal: It was a model of how dangerous businesses remain in business.

The other trouble with IBT was what it revealed about EPA, which could not and did not face the corruption of science and business that produced IBT. As a result, EPA institutionalized IBT in its method. It became a kind of an IBT machine speeding up the work of the chemical industry and agribusiness, which are always developing ever-newer sprays and genetic engineering techniques for the farmers and for their own global hegemony over food and agriculture.

EPA caught other IBT-like labs. One was in California where a giant European petroleum company bankrolled a mini-IBT in order to facilitate the approval of its pesticides by EPA. A university lab in Texas subverted a study done for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; a person in the lab was caught "screwing up" the results of a chicken study by violating the chicken.

These experiences led EPA to slow down its lab audit program to stop embarrassing itself. It wanted to, and, had to, stop confronting other frauds in the chemical industry.

The politicians who run the agency did not wish to offend the corporate friends of the president (Democrat and Republican) and powerful Congressmen and Senators.

EPA professionals knew that confronting corporate polluters or environmental criminals meant trouble, even putting their careers at risk. So EPA scientists and managers adopted the strategy of IBT, cutting-and-pasting the industry's assessments as their own. In addition, EPA has been outsourcing the evaluation of industry studies. That way, there are not, there cannot easily be, any more IBTs.

Meanwhile, EPA proclaims it is working in protecting "public health and the environment" from any "unreasonable risk."

Second, the captains of the "regulated" industry keep corrupting the staff of EPA with funding hundreds of free trips to universities, farms, and other favorable sites. Industry lobbyists meet with them almost daily, playing on their sensibilities of science, but always trying to put them, in the words of a pharmaceutical lobbyist, on a "yes-saying" habit. In addition, the chief lobbyists of the industry are former EPA political appointees, members of Congress and White House staff.

Under such political control, EPA is in no position to defend nature and human health. Bad news freezes the agency into nothingness. It pays for data, only to hide, shred or dump them: Becoming, in due course, a polluters' protection agency.

At a time when the nation is obsessed with "security," it is ignoring the greatest threat to its real security: the degradation of nature and deteriorating standards for clean air, drinking water and food, especially food.

Time has come to establish a Federal Reserve-like EPA, immune to the narrow agenda of each president and Congress, including the political influences of the industry.

If that is not possible, the environmental organizations of the country ought to jointly fund an independent laboratory to become an alternative to EPA. This lab would regularly test food, drinking water and air for hazards and immediately publish the results. With that knowledge out, the public could avoid risks and bring EPA under a constant scrutiny.

Equally important is to forbid the chemical industry from testing its own products. The history of fraud in the chemical industry makes it untrustworthy. An independent testing facility ought to test industrial products. Like EPA, laws ought to protect this national laboratory from industry and government influence.

EPA's sole mission ought to be protecting our health and the natural world.