On February 25, 2021, the environmental advocacy group PEER reported that the US EPA downgraded the cancer risk of the pesticide Telone based on faulty study data. This was done against the advice of CARC, the California EPA, and other agencies that agreed the classification should not be downgraded. Telone is Dow Chemical’s trade name for 1,3-dichloropropene, which is used as pesticide in soil.
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) claimed that an EPA report from February 4, 2020 used fraudulent data to downgrade the carcinogenic classification of Telone. In 1985, the National Toxicology Program found Telone caused lung and bladder tumors in rats and mice. The EPA classified Telone as a “probable human carcinogen” that same year and again in 1996, 2000, and 2005. Similarly, the CDC in the state of California and the National Toxicology Program have repeatedly found that Telone is a “likely human carcinogen.” PEER claims the EPA omitted the full name (1,3-dichloropropene) during their assessment. This omission allowed over 80 peer-reviewed reports showing the carcinogenic effects of Telone to be ignored, including a 2015 peer-reviewed study that linked Telone to DNA damage in rats. PEER also claims that in 2020, the EPA appointed members to its Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) who did not understand how to assess Telone’s effects. PEER executive director and former EPA Enforcement Attorney, Tim Whitehouse said “this flawed finding puts both the public and applicators of the fumigant at needless risk.” A spokesperson for the EPA responded saying “EPA stands behind its career scientists and will follow the science and law in accordance with the Biden-Harris administration’s executive orders and other directives in reviewing all of the agency’s actions issued under the previous administration to ensure that they protect public health and the environment.”
There are substantial differences between how independent and corporate sources present the facts of the story. The story appearing in The Intercept provides more detail, researchable facts, and references to available studies. Much of the corporate coverage simply relies on quotes and other detail from The Intercept story. For example, the corporate news story, “Advocates Say EPA Ignored Popular Fumigant’s Cancer Risks” by Michael Phillis on Law 360 provided basic and unbiased information including statements from advocates but offered little support or facts other than those offered by PEER group members. An Inside TSCA article notes that PEER asked the EPA’s Office of Inspector General to investigate whether Trump-era officials committed “fraud” but does not include any quotes from the EPA in response to PEER’s claims. An April 2020 report by Targeted News Service reported that California EPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld wrote to the US EPA, saying the decision to downgrade Telone’s carcinogen status ran counter to previous years’ evidence but, again, provides no counter argument from the US EPA. Reposting details from The Intercept story, most of the corporate coverage failed to provide any new or additional information about the subject. It is important to note that while The Intercept makes strong allegations, its coverage also provided supporting facts and researchable content. The Intercept uses strong terms like ‘fraudulent’, ‘false’, and ‘clear evidence’ versus softer words, like ‘allegedly’ and ‘according to PEER,’ in the corporate sources. Neither independent nor corporate news sources interviewed those affected by this decision, such as farmers, gardeners, and local residents.
Sharon Lerner, “Environmental Group Charges EPA With Ignoring Evidence of Cancer,” The Intercept, February 25, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/02/25/epa-cancer-pesticide-Telone/.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, “Fraud Charged in EPA Pesticide Risk Assessment,” [press release], February 21, 2021, https://www.peer.org/fraud-charged-in-epa-pesticide-risk-assessment/.
Student Researchers: Kapil Singh and Raquel Cordo (Queens College, City University of New York)
Faculty Evaluator: Roopali Mukherjee (Queens College, City University of New York)