In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, sound science is more important than ever. This week, APHA and over 100 scientists, researchers, public and environmental health advocates spoke out against an Environmental Protection Agency rule that would undermine the role of science in protecting health.

The proposed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulation Science” Supplemental Rule would allow EPA to ignore critical studies where all the underlying data is not fully public, including public health studies based on private medical records. That means EPA would be prevented from using the best available science when considering public health and environmental protections, according to APHA and other opponents.

“This new rule is not defensible on scientific grounds and would make it much harder for the agency to carry out its legal obligation to protect public health and the environment,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

EPA refused to hear testimony in a public hearing, even online, so the Union of Concerned Scientists took action, hosting an unofficial virtual public hearing on April 14 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT. The hearing was broadcast live on the organization’s website, and its transcript will be submitted to the EPA docket as part of the written public comment period.

“We will make sure that the EPA hears from the public on this rule, whether they want to or not,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy. “The proposed rule has enormous consequences for public health and safety. It’s absolutely unacceptable for the EPA to try and push it through during a public health emergency.”

Surili PatelSpeaking on behalf of APHA, Surili Patel, director of APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity, said the supplemental rule would further disadvantage low-income communities and communities of color as they face exposures from harmful environmental conditions.

“The scientific process has checks and balances to minimize methodological biases against certain populations,” Patel said. “Picking and choosing to admit certain studies may limit a comprehensive picture of the problem, and possibly the solution, thus perpetuating health inequities.”

EPA is accepting written public comments through Regulations.gov until May 18. Anyone can submit written feedback to the proposed supplemental rule. The Union of Concerned Scientists has created a Public Comment Guide for the rule specifically to help anyone who has never submitted public comment before.

“We encourage everyone to speak out to ensure that all voices are heard amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Patel said.

Photo: Surili Patel