The Politics of Science

Is the EPA harassing its own researchers?

| May-June 1999

The Environmental Protection Agency has come under congressional scrutiny after a bizarre series of incidents in which the nation’s environmental watchdog appears to be short-circuiting the work of some of its top scientists. As Gayle Worland reports in Westword (Feb. 4, 1999), the EPA is under investigation by the General Accounting Office for its treatment of agency researchers whose conclusions conflicted with EPA interests. One scientist, Brian Rimar, was subjected to an internal investigation, pulled from his own project, and eventually left the agency. Though EPA officials blamed the debacle on bureaucratic mix-ups, Rimar alleges the agency targeted him because the preliminary results of his study of copper poisoning near a Superfund site in Colorado would prevent the EPA from lowering water quality standards in the area. “The agency…contradicted its own mission and mishandled one of the most distressing chapters in the history of Superfund cleanup sites,” Worland writes. “Although the EPA is loaded with some of the country's best scientists, its management practices may be drowning in hazardous waste.”