Washington, DC, June 9, 2020 — Under White House orders to re-open, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds itself in apparent violation of Centers for Disease Control standards and has abruptly canceled some re-opening dates, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA has yet to release data establishing that those offices slated to re-open meet CDC criteria for testing availability and disease abatement, nor have offices set forth social distancing or other safeguards prescribed in CDC guidance.
In recent days, EPA has announced it will open regional offices located in Atlanta, Kansas City and Seattle. In the same period, it has reversed plans to re-open offices in Boston and Dallas.
CDC guidance lays out “gating criteria” specifying conditions that communities should meet before entering what it terms a “Phase One” re-opening. Yet, none of the cities with major EPA offices appear to come close to meeting CDC criteria for –
- A “Robust testing program”;
- “Decreases in percentage of SARS-CoV-2 tests positive”; or
- “Downward trajectory (or near-zero incidence) of documented [COVID] cases over a 14-day period.”
In a late May all-employee message, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote that “we have leveraged our own EPA scientific professionals to evaluate data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other expert sources.” Yet, Wheeler has not advised employees about the methodology of any separate evaluation or what reevaluated data indicate.
“Transparency has not been a hallmark at EPA under Andrew Wheeler but information affecting employee health risks should be immediately shared, not withheld,” said PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse. “CDC has established gating criteria that must be met before safely entering Phase One, but EPA’s political appointees appear eager to jump the gate.”
Once these EPA offices enter Phase One re-opening, it is not clear how they will implement CDC guidance governing issues such as –
- Mandatory social distancing and limits on access to common areas;
- Personal protective equipment;
- Workplace hazard assessments;
- Protocols for contract workers, such as security guards and custodians; and
- Cleaning workspaces and disinfection or closures after an employee tests positive.
“EPA has yet to brief workers about what they will be facing when they return, such as what personal protective equipment will be required and, if it is, whether it will be provided,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that the abrupt start and stop directives issued are causing needless anxiety. “Perhaps the biggest anxiety is that those who have worked closely with Mr. Wheeler over the past several months have good reason not to trust him when it comes to matters of public health.”