Stealth Closure of EPA Chemical Library Hampers Scientists
Unannounced Move Hampers Agency Scientists’ Review of New Chemicals
Without any word to the public, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has closed its specialized library for research on the effects and properties of chemicals, according to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The library’s unique technical collection is being offered for dispersal, with the remainder kept in storage.
The Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, in EPA’s Washington D.C. Headquarters, had provided research services to EPA scientists who review industry requests for the introduction of new chemicals into the market. Among other holdings, the library contained –
* Unique toxicological studies on the potential effects of pesticides on children;
* Up-to-date research on genetically engineered chemicals and other biotech products; and
* Extensive literature on emergency planning and chemical risk assessments.
“Without this research assistance, EPA scientists have fewer resources to conduct thorough analyses on hundreds of new chemicals for which companies are clamoring for agency approval to launch each year into the mainstream of American commerce,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “When confronted with new chemicals, EPA scientists often begin by looking at the effects of similar chemicals or analogues – a technique hampered by closing its library housing research on chemicals and their effects.”
To give some idea of the scope of the OPPTS collection, a catalogue search yields 228,772 documents on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that was banned in household sprays due to its potential to harm children.
The OPPTS Library was officially closed on October 20, 2006. The library’s valuable, paper-only collection has been moved into boxes, which are currently stored in a basement cafeteria. Last week, EPA laid off three librarians and two technical staff. In the meantime, approximately 20 cubicles have been erected inside the library’s open space where EPA scientists used to review unique monographs.
Citing budget pressures, EPA has in recent weeks closed several of its libraries across the country, with their collections gathered in three large “repositories,” where the works sit un-catalogued and inaccessible both to EPA’s scientists and to members of the public. EPA claims to be digitizing these collections in a page-by-page process that has no dedicated budget, timetable, over-arching plan or set of priorities.
Unlike its recent closure of its main Headquarters library and despite federal policy (Office of Budget & Management Circular A-130) requiring that the public be notified whenever “terminating significant information dissemination products,” EPA made no public announcement concerning the dismantlement of the OPPTS Library. In addition, the OPPTS Library was not mentioned in the “EPA FY 2007 Framework” as one of the several libraries slated to be shuttered.
“EPA’s hasty, buzz saw slashing at its library network is now interfering with its mission of harnessing the best available science to protect human health and the environment,” commented Ruch, noting that Congress has yet to approve EPA’s actions. “Given the tremendous public health risks, this is absolutely the last place EPA should be cutting.”