EPA needs to postpone next week’s peer review of its draft risk evaluation of trichloroethylene

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

As we all deal with an emerging major health crisis, it is critical that the quality of ongoing work on other issues vital to protecting public health is not sacrificed or compromised as a result.  Given this, we strongly urge EPA to postpone next week’s peer review of its draft risk evaluation of trichloroethylene.

A few short weeks ago, EPA issued a draft risk evaluation for a highly toxic chemical, trichloroethylene or TCE.  The draft is many hundreds of pages long (thousands of pages counting supplemental files).  EPA also scheduled the peer review by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) for next week, March 24-27.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the time frame EPA provided for getting meaningful expert review of this important document was already questionable.  Now it is simply untenable.

As of now, EPA intends to proceed with the meeting as a virtual meeting.  While traveling to a meeting next week should of course be off the table, proceeding with a virtual meeting at this point is asking far too much of SACC members and their families and will clearly lead to a severely compromised peer review.  Consider, for example:

  • SACC members who are dealing with their own and their families’ health and well-being, are now being asked to spend dozens of hours over 4 days next week trying to participate in the virtual meeting. We all know how hard that is to do under normal circumstances.  It is unrealistic and unfair to expect it under our current circumstances.
  • Some SACC members are themselves members of the public health community that are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Many or most SACC members are faculty at colleges and universities, and hence are likely already grappling as part of their day jobs with a shift to online teaching.
  • SACC members are being expected to have found the time in these recent chaotic days to have read these massive documents, draft initial comments and be prepared to discuss all of this next week.
  • Stakeholders are preparing comments for the SACC’s consideration, which are due this Wednesday. SACC members are expected to review these materials on top of everything else.
  • Stakeholders from health and labor groups who have been participating in the risk evaluation process by providing comments to the SACC as well as EPA are presently consumed with addressing COVID-19 issues facing their members and constituents.

As we are learning in real time during this unfolding health crisis, ensuring there is sound expert input into public health decisions is absolutely essential.  We cannot let the current crisis result in a weakening of the quality and credibility of scientific input on other important public health issues.

EPA needs to promptly postpone the SACC peer review of TCE and reschedule it at a time and in a manner that respects the critical role the SACC plays.

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