PavementCouncil.org submitted a Request for Correction (RfC) of information to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Data Quality Act (DQA). The RfC challenges the EPA’s reliance on outdated papers that offer theories about the alleged impact of refined coal tar-based sealants (RTS) on the environment. All of the studies cited by the EPA were published years ago by staff affiliated with the US Geological Survey (USGS) or the City of Austin. Most of the conclusions proffered in these publications have been called into question by more recent peer reviewed articles and comments published in well respected scientific journals. Up to now, the more recent literature concerning RTS has been overlooked by the EPA. The RfC is available on EPA’s Information Quality web site.
One EPA publication that specifically has been challenged can be found at the EPA’s CADDIS website. CADDIS is an EPA initiative developed to help scientists and engineers assess the manner in which aquatic systems can be affected by a large number of “stressors,” such as those commonly associated with urbanization. Guidance offered by the EPA at this website emphasizes how important it is to consider all relevant evidence when determining the cause or causes of various environmental impacts. The guidance strongly encourages consultation with industry stakeholders who may have important insights and expertise. However, when it comes to RTS, the EPA thus far has failed to solicit input from PavementCouncil.org or consider industry funded research. This oversight has forced PavementCouncil.org to use the formal RfC process as a way to update the EPA, and the public, about the manner in which the scientific literature has evolved. As pointed out in the RfC, the EPA also has overlooked reports and studies prepared by other government agencies that have failed to support the RTS hypotheses offered by the USGS and the City of Austin in their older studies.
PavementCouncil.org also seeks correction of a document titled Coal-Tar Sealcoat, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, and Stormwater Pollution which purports to define a “Stormwater Best Management Practice.” Again, in generating this document, the EPA has relied on outdated articles published by the USGS and City of Austin team even though those articles have been critiqued in more recent peer reviewed publications. Such selective use of the scientific literature, citing articles only on one side of a scientific debate, is an example of what appears to be White Hat Bias (“bias leading to the distortion of information in the service of what may be perceived to be righteous ends.”). Since evidence documented in many articles and comments on RTS have been omitted from this second EPA document, PavementCoatings.org was forced to address these issues as well in the RfC that has just been filed.
PavementCouncil.org has challenged the USGS studies via three DQA filings since May, 2013, available on the USGS web site. That process is still ongoing.
I wondering if this would help the USGS Scientific Integrity Officer since they do not seem to be able to detect any “bad science”. I will say they are excellent at protecting their organization rather than protecting science. Perhaps a new title is in order? Organization Protection Officer?
This website is also very interesting:
One vocal ban activist is city employee E. who works for the City of Austin, TX. E’s blog, Coal Tar Free America, promotes banning CTS pavement sealer. As to the accuracy of the claim made on E’s blog, let’s just say there are too many errors to mention in just this one posting.
There are several facts about E. that most people do not know about:
-City employee E. is a co-author of one of the USGS paper published in Environmental Science and Technology. If you notice in the author section, E is listed under Designs4Earth, Inc. It seems that E. and former city employee B. were owners/employees of this small company. If you refer to the supplementary information section of this study, you will find the method how different types of sealants were distinguished. This method (referred to as the coffee/tea test) had a patent pending at the time, which was held by Designs4Earth, Inc (see bottom of page one).
-E. also works for the City of Austin, TX. From information gather from multiple sources, E worked as a paid ban activist (by the city) to encourage bans in other cities and towns. These same sources confirmed that E. acted as a conduit for ban activities for other scientists. The USGS scientists acknowledged the role that E. played and referred various individuals to E. so that it is not apparent that USGS were acting as ban advocates. E. activist activities were not a secret to the major actors within MPCA, EPA, University of New Hampshire, and Washington District Department of the Environment (and others) as E. was frequently involved in the talk of bans in locations other than Austin.
-E.admitted to MPCA employees that as of 2011, the City of Austin was not paying him to continue his activist activities. It would appear that is when his blog, Coal Tar Free America appeared. E. still continues to act as a ban activist.
Several questions come to mind:
-How did City of Austin decide that paying an employee to act as an activist was a good use of tax dollars? Especially considering most of this activity was outside the city.
-USGS management knew about E’s activist activities and that Designs4Earth owned the test method that was used in the USGS studies. There are two obvious conflicts of interests that are apparent in this case. What did USGS do to mitigate this bias and conflict of interest? USGS failed to disclose to the journal of the financial interest E. had in the test method held by his company.
One must question that must be asked is if the USGS the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAQWA) organization recognizes and encourages policy advocacy. There are several documents written by USGS employees that show that they acknowledge and encourage advocacy This is done for the sake of organizational change. Organizational change is not necessarily a bad thing but considering that USGS is science-based organization and the change may jeopardize scientific creditability, this may present a serious problem.
Why USGS felt that change was necessary
Graffy (2008) details the need for organizational change at the USGS’s NAWQA due to three reasons. The first reason was the perception of USGS management that policy makers were unwilling or unable to use USGS generated science. The second reason for change occurred in 1994 with Congress’ Contract with America, which called for the reduction in size in government in general. It was purported that one of the agency’s slated for elimination was the USGS (Graffy, 2008). The final reason was the introduction of the Government Results Act of 1993, which allows for greater accountability and elevated expectations for federal employees (Graffy, 2008). Another recent reason for the organizational change that was not explored is the ongoing discussion of merging USGS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into a single Earth Science Agency (Barnett, 2008).
What kind of change was necessary?
The greatest change of the organization was that USGS scientists needed to be more involved in the public policy-making process (working with politicians). USGS formulated The Functions of Scientific Information (FOSI) model provided a heuristic model to scientists linking public policy and science(Graffy, 1999, 2008).
Evidence that USGS is becoming value-based over being objective
Conspicuously absent from FOSI model is any guidance pertaining to the agency’s position on policy advocacy. This omission is especially glaring considering USGS scientists will be put into situations working with policy-makers where the possibility of advocacy could occur. Graffy (1999) explains that “mainstreaming of environmental concerns into American values and policy-makers promoting science-based policy is thrusting scientists into the policy-making process” (p.293). Ironically, this statement is value-laden and could give the impression that the USGS is becoming more normative- friendly (value-based and not objective). A second piece of evidence comes from is how NAWQA measures its organizational success. Metrics for success included media coverage and number of hits to the NAWQA website (National Research Council, 2012). Again, this suggests that USGS is becoming more value-based and less objective.
Reiteration about problems with policy advocacy
When scientist chose to advocate a policy position, they may be expressing their opinion towards certain policy choices. Issues with advocacy and policy-making arise when the politician depends upon the objectivity of the scientist. Without objectivity, policy decisions would be based on biased information. Problems associated with policy advocacy includes confusing or misleading policy-makers, being unethical, and loss of credibility for science and scientists (other scientists and themselves) (Blockstein, 2002; Lackey, 2004; Ruggiero, 2010).