EPA: A Muzzled Watchdog

E.G. Vallianatos Seeks to Put Bite Back into the Agency



photo by Sonja Stump

E.G. Vallianatos firmly believes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is failing to adequately protect us. His deeply rooted conviction springs from 25 years of working for the agency.

His latest book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, co-authored with environmental journalist McKay Jenkins, chronicles what he attests are numerous cases of lack of enforcement, corruption and misuse of science and public trust that have transformed it into a “polluter’s protection agency.” He especially documents the dangers of chemicals that enter our air, soil and water every day that are either approved—or sometimes ignored—by the agency.

He’s the author of four previous books, including Harvest of Devastation and This Land is Their Land: How Corporate Farms Threaten the World, and blogs for The Huffington Post. Vallianatos, who transitioned from championing integrity from inside the EPA in 2004, recommends ways to change how the agency operates. Key needs include improved site selection for garbage dumps, oil refineries and manufacturers; and strong support for organic, sustainable and small-scale farming.

Of the many cases you cite of the EPA failing to curb industry wrongdoing, which one most compellingly signals the problem?

It has to do with laboratories that test for human health and environmental effects of chemicals used by farmers and drug manufacturers. Adrian Gross, at the EPA, accidentally discovered the greatest fraud [in this field], committed by a massive laboratory outside Chicago named Industrial Bio-Test that was confirmed by inspector colleagues at the Food and Drug Administration and eventually the EPA. It was being paid by the industry to test their chemicals, and instead of doing an honest accounting of chemicals registered with and approved by the government, they would fix the numbers to secure approval for the drugs or chemicals.

The EPA shut down this laboratory in 1983, yet continues to outsource much of its responsibilities. Despite this and other illegal and criminal activities, the government still allows the chemical industry to test its own chemicals. It casts tremendous doubt on the reliability and credibility of the process. It’s the Achilles heel of the regulatory system. Science has been the greatest victim of this manipulation. Industry should be forbidden to test its own products and we need to establish truly independent laboratories.

In Poison Spring, what do you mean by, “Women have long been getting the brunt of global pollution”?

In 1977, a former colleague testified to Congress on the discovery of DDT and other chemicals in mother’s milk. Today, we find it includes many more widely used chemicals such as Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate. Breast milk has been contaminated by what mothers eat, breathe and drink. Even beyond milk, they have no option not to pass on what’s in their bodies to their newborn. We have forced women to put the next generation at risk. If anyone wants to know the biggest factor on why the healthcare system is failing, this is it.

Fracking is the latest crisis of which the EPA is, in your words, “once again looking the other way.” How can we halt it?

Fracking sends tremendous volumes of water mixed with more than 100 toxic chemicals deep into the Earth using intense pressure, smashing bedrock and other sediments to release gas and perhaps petroleum. Fracking not only contaminates groundwater, escaping methane gas is entering the atmosphere and warming the planet. It also causes lots of earthquakes. People can demand a ban of fracking in their neighborhoods. States and communities are beginning to do so.

Is it possible that the EPA can become truly independent, and how can we move forward together toward integrity?

As more people are affected by the way industry is poisoning our environment, they’ll face the reality that we need the EPA to be much more strongly protective and isolated from the political corruption that’s been tying its hands.

I love that the EPA employs many vitally important and capable scientists. Criticisms stem from its overall corruption by the political system. We need to have a Supreme Court-like EPA with an overall administrator appointing deputies, people with integrity that are open-minded as to what must be done if this country is to be healthy.


Randy Kambic is a freelance writer and editor in Southwest Florida who regularly contributes to Natural Awakenings.

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