Industry Challenge Prompts Removal of EPA Database

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Published  01/27/2005 05:45 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has removed one database from its public website and slightly altered another due to a Data Quality Act (DQA) challenge submitted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber submitted the request May 26, 2004, asserting that physical and chemical property information in several EPA databases was erroneous because the data was inconsistent and contradictory between the different databases. The differing information leads to vastly different cleanup cost estimates for contaminated sites, according to the Chamber.

The petition listed 16 databases in which EPA should "assure that the databases consistently and uniformly indicate the same, correct numerical value for any listed physical or chemical property parameter associated with the identified chemicals and chemical mixtures regardless of what database is consulted." The Chamber asserts that the databases are not objective, lack utility, and should be reproducible and transparent.

EPA responded by altering two of the databases. It pulled the Soil and Transport Fate (STF) database from its website, where a message now reads:
EPA is reviewing the database incorporated in the STF software package to determine the accuracy of the data contained therein. Upon completion of the review, a decision will be made as to whether or not the database will be once again made available on this Internet site. In the meantime, users of the database are advised that, while the information in the database is believed to be reliable, neither EPA nor any of its contractors make any further claim to the accuracy of the data and are not responsible for any use made of the data nor any consequences arising from such use.
The STF database contains information on how chemicals react and behave in varying soil environments. This important health and environmental information is no longer available to the public because of an industry DQA challenge. As stated in EPA's above webpage message, the agency may not even return the data to its website.

The agency also made a small change to the PBT Profiler webpage, adding two sentences meant to clarify proper use of the data. The added text can be seen under the number four on this page. The PBT Profiler database identifies "materials that may need additional technical evaluation for Persistence, Bioaccumulation and Toxicity characteristics." EPA made no changes to the other databases, stating that they were either superseded by other databases or were not EPA databases. Several of the databases are owned by Syracuse Research Corporation.

Differences in procedures, purpose, timing, and other factors are bound to result in differing profiles. For instance, databases often include so many chemicals that it would be practically impossible to keep them all completely up to date. Instead, the programs schedule regular reviews. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to expect that a more recently updated database could have a different profile for a particular chemical than another database. Furthermore, scientists concerned about the DQA and OMB's subsequent peer review standards have stated that scientific certainty and identical results are an impossible and unreasonable standard for scientific information.

While instant access to the most up-to-date data is a desire of any information user, EPA and other federal agencies must operate in the reality of limited resources. Industry seemed to realize this impossible standard, and used the opportunity to push for information removal, which has been a growing side effect of the DQA. This ultimately means less health and environment data getting to the public.

OMB Watch urges EPA to repost the STF database immediately so that those that need the data can have access to it. EPA should not remove information from its website because of pressure from industry. If EPA wishes to examine the database or the procedures that support it, then the information should remain available during that process until there is a definitive reason to remove the database.

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