Issue Date: January 26, 2009
EPA Actions On Peer Reviewer Comments Deemed Legal
EPA violated no law, regulation, or policy when it removed a peer reviewer's comments on an agency report about the hazards of flame retardants, the EPA Inspector General (IG) says. In 2007, the agency removed the comments of toxicologist Deborah Rice from a peer review of EPA's assessment of four polybrominated diphenyl ethers. These substances are suspected of causing neurobehavioral problems and adversely affecting the immune system. EPA redacted Rice's comments in response to complaints by the American Chemistry Council, a trade association of chemical manufacturers, that Rice might lack impartiality and objectivity because she testified before the Maine Legislature as lawmakers considered a ban on deca-BDE, one of the flame retardants under EPA review (C&EN, Oct. 6, 2008, page 42). Agency officials gave inconsistent reasons for eliminating Rice's comments. Some said the action was taken because Rice failed to disclose her testimony to EPA, whereas others cited a potential conflict of interest. In a Jan. 16 report, the IG said that although the agency did nothing illegal, EPA should establish a process for reviewing allegations about conflict of interest or lack of impartiality that are raised after a peer review panel is convened. The report also recommends that EPA document its decisions when resolving allegations of conflict of interest or bias made against a peer reviewer.
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