US regulator accused of “egregious” misconduct in PFAS testing of pesticides

By Carey Gillam

Documents obtained from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicate the agency may have presented false information to the public about testing for harmful contaminants in pesticides, according to allegations being made by a watchdog group and a former EPA research fellow.

The claims come almost a year to the day after the EPA issued a May 2023 press release that stated the agency found no per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in testing of samples of certain insecticide products. The press release contradicted a published study by the former EPA researcher that had reported finding PFAS in the same pesticide products.

PFAS contamination is a hot topic in environmental and public health circles because certain types of PFAS are known to be very hazardous for human health, and world governments and public health advocates are pushing to sharply limit exposure to these types of chemicals. Accurate testing for PFAS contamination is key to regulating exposure, making the accuracy and transparency of EPA testing a critical issue.

The allegations that the EPA incorrectly reported some PFAS test results were made Tuesday by the nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), led by former EPA employees.

PEER Director of Scientific Policy Kyla Bennett said that the organization obtained pesticide product testing data from the EPA through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents they received back from the EPA showed the agency had indeed found PFAS in the tested products, directly contradicting the press release the agency had issued.

“It’s pretty outrageous,” said Bennett. “You don’t get to just ignore the stuff that doesn’t support your hypothesis. That is not science. That is corruption. I can only think that they were getting pressure from pesticide companies.”

Joining in the allegations is environmental toxicologist Steven Lasee, who authored the 2022 study that the EPA challenged. Lasee is a consultant for state and federal government agencies on PFAS contamination projects and participated as a research fellow for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development from February 2021 to February 2023.