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Teflon Coats Public Agency Environmental Science

Jackson Sought to Have New Jersey PFOA Study Pulled from Publication

WASHINGTON - New Jersey state scientists had to run a political gauntlet to
publish a risk assessment on a chemical that has spread to contaminate
drinking water in several states, according to documents posted today
by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). One
official seeking to block publication of the study was Lisa Jackson,
then the state environmental commissioner and now head of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.

The controversy concerns perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a
chemical used in nonstick cookware and stain resistant fabrics, such as
"Scotchgard". PFOAs do not break down in the environment and thus build
up in the body. Although concentrations of PFOA in drinking water are
relatively low, ingestion of PFOA-tainted water multiplies blood
concentration 100-fold higher. Among other effects, PFOAs disrupt human
hormone and reproductive systems at blood levels as low as four parts
per billion.

In October 2008, a PFOA risk assessment paper prepared by New Jersey
Department of Environmental protection scientists was "pulled from
submission for publication" under orders from then DEP Commissioner
Jackson. Her rationale was the need for additional peer review, even
though the paper had already been peer reviewed and was undergoing
vetting before publication in the prestigious peer review journal
Environmental Science & Technology.

Several months after Jackson left DEP, the study, entitled
"Occurrence and Potential Significance of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
Detected in New Jersey Public Drinking Water Systems", was eventually
published in the journal's May 8, 2009 edition. Despite this risk
assessment evidencing the need for stricter standards, New Jersey has
yet to incorporate it into drinking water limits. Neither has EPA,
which is grappling with the issue now under Jackson.

Significantly, before she left Jackson instituted several changes at
DEP that make it far more difficult for public agency environmental
science to be published, including:

  • Abolished the DEP Division of Science, Research &
    Technology, thus crippling the ability of the state to perform similar
    scientific studies in the future. In the process, Eileen Murphy, the
    science division director who protested Jackson's attempt to pull the
    study, was removed; and
  • Convened an industry dominated
    Efficiency Task Force and accepted recommendations to promote private
    sector science in agency decision-making; and.
  • Commissioned a body of outside scientists to review and approve all future DEP scientific work

"The goal of industry is to decouple science from the regulatory
process and they are succeeding both in the few states, such as New
Jersey, which had scientific capabilities, and at EPA, as well," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "As these new chemicals enter first
our water supply and then our bodies, industry has been able to stall
at every step, from risk assessment to regulation and enforcement."

Even with all these strictures on its science, last month DEP officials
imposed new non-disclosure rules requiring approval by political
officials before scientific or technical information is disclosed.


Read the e-mails from Lisa Jackson to stop publication

See the abstract of the eventually published risk assessment

Look at PFOA pollution in state's water supplies

View the DEP call for "exceptional scientists" to serve on advisory board


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