Several recent news and opinion pieces in this newspaper have mischaracterized the Environmental Protection Agency’s work in Pavillion. I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify some key facts about our science.
First, the editorial page of this paper wrote that EPA has “poisoned the public debate by releasing its report” and a recent opinion piece claimed that the report release was “rushed.” These assertions do a disservice to the rigorous scientific process EPA conducted and the vital interest in informing the public and scientific community of the results of EPA’s work.
Our investigation of drinking water safety in Pavillion has been under way for three years. We have conducted four rounds of sampling. After the sampling phase, our career scientists conducted a meticulous evaluation of the data. Their conclusions were thoroughly reviewed by EPA career managers and subjected to an initial peer review by independent experts. The draft report exhaustively describes the evidence supporting EPA’s conclusions and how that evidence was evaluated.
Importantly, we have been clear that the report is a draft, that we expect and want public feedback, and that we are asking independent experts to publicly peer review our work, which is the accepted method of resolving questions about scientific validity.
We could not conduct an open peer review, with full participation by the public, if our draft report could not see the light of day. Nor would burying the report be fair to the citizens of Wyoming, who deserve to know what EPA has concluded about the safety of their drinking water.
We likewise reject the assertion that we have ignored questions about the study raised by the state of Wyoming. In fact, we fully shared our study protocols with the state before beginning each phase of work. Then, we took the unusual step of delaying the release of the draft report by a month to allow a full technical review by the state and other parties. We held two full-day meetings with the state’s experts to answer their questions and provided additional data that they and others requested.
We will provide further information as we move toward public peer review. Far from dismissing the state’s concerns, we have taken extraordinary steps to be responsive to those concerns and we will continue to do so.
Finally, the Star-Tribune’s Dec. 27 article titled “Pavillion water samples improperly tested” reports the claims of state representatives that EPA failed to follow good scientific procedures. We did not respond to these charges immediately because we wanted to consider them carefully. After thorough review, we stand behind the quality of our data and the validity of our scientific methods.
We are separately addressing the claims in the Dec. 27 article but, to take one example, we can categorically state that the short delay in analyzing samples of certain chemicals in one of our labs did not compromise the results. Accepted practice in such situations is not to automatically reject the data but to analyze the impact of the delay on data quality. Here, it was clear that the delay simply caused us to understate the levels at which these contaminants were found.
Moreover, we analyzed the same samples at another EPA lab and identified the same contaminants. Thus, there’s no reason to doubt that the contaminants were in fact present in the Pavillion groundwater.
In sum, EPA initiated its investigation at the request of Pavillion residents concerned about the quality of their water and in close consultation with the state of Wyoming. The residents deserve answers to their questions, and EPA will continue to use the best scientific process to determine the facts.