WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is crafting a rule that would effectively bar the use of some of the nation’s most robust scientific research in writing EPA policy.
A new draft of the EPA’s proposal would require scientists to disclose their raw data—including personal identifiers such as patients’ names and addresses, information which privacy law requires be kept confidential— before the EPA could consider a study’s conclusions.
This move would significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use in writing public health regulations and would undermine the scientific basis for government policymaking.
EPA draws on medical and scientific studies to accurately assess the threats to health posed by pollutants in the air, water and soil and relate exposure levels to actual health outcomes in real human beings. This requires amassing large data bases, typically from hospital records. Since those records include personal information, the disclosure of which would violate privacy and confidentiality laws, some of the nation’s best scientific health studies would be barred from consideration in formulating pollution standards.
“Requiring the release of personal identifiers would be a huge mistake,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Program Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility. “This approach would reject sound, solid scientific studies, including some of science’s most important and valid studies. This reckless move would greatly hamper our ability to understand the impacts of serious, even deadly, environmental pollutants.
“For example,” Gottlieb continued, “a study conducted in Pennsylvania found that living near fracking operations significantly increases asthma attacks. This study was conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and was based on analysis of 35,000 medical records. This is just the sort of study we want EPA to base its health-protective regulations on: a robust and objective database, conducted by researchers at a respected institution and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. Yet, should the proposed rule be adopted, this study could be disallowed, because those 35,000 medical records cannot easily and efficiently be stripped of personal identifiers.
“The EPA is seeking to turn its back on studies that enable its core mission: to safeguard environmental health and protect American communities from harm. This is censorship science, pure and simple.
“Excluding well-crafted, peer-reviewed research findings would be to weaken the scientific record and undercut the accuracy and the strength of EPA’s regulatory process. For the well-being of all our patients across the country, Physicians for Social Responsibility opposes EPA’s proposed rule.”