Washington, DC — Despite a growing need to understand the impacts of chemicals on our health and environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not re-open its specialized library for research on the properties and effects of new chemicals, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a consequence, one of the world’s most comprehensive technical collections on pesticides and other compounds will be permanently lost.
The Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, in EPA’s Washington D.C. Headquarters, had provided research services to EPA scientists who review industry requests for the introduction of new chemicals into the market. Without any public announcement or notice to its staff, EPA shut down the library in October 2006. Its holdings were dispersed and many journals “recycled.”
In December 2007, after nearly a third of agency libraries had been closed, Congress intervened and ordered EPA to re-open closed libraries but left it up to the agency to devise a plan. The details of EPA’s plan are now just becoming known. Rather than restore the OPPTS Library, EPA will instead –
- Limit a re-opened EPA Headquarters Library (closed since September 2006) to a total of 150 square feet – an area smaller than a one-car garage. Within that small space, a tiny remnant of the original OPPTS Library holdings will be available as a “special Chemical Collection”;
- This entire Chemical Collection will occupy one six-shelf bookcase totaling 18 linear feet. The rest of the EPA HQs Library will be contained in two bookshelves totaling 36 linear feet; and
- This Chemical Collection will have no librarian assigned to it (though the restored HQ Library will have a single librarian and technician). By contrast, the OPPTS Library had three librarians and two technical staff.
The OPPTS Library had housed numerous unique toxicological studies on the potential effects of pesticides on children; up-to-date research on genetically engineered and other biotech products; and extensive literature on chemical risk assessments and emergency planning. Its former space, where EPA scientists used to review monographs, is now filled with cubicles.
“Shuttering its only library dedicated to the study of chemicals speaks profoundly to the perverse priorities of our current Environmental Protection Agency,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “EPA has chosen to make its scientists far less capable of independently analyzing whatever industry submits.”
On May 22, 2008, the chairs of House Committees on Science and Technology, Energy & Commerce and Government Oversight, along with the chair of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, jointly asked the Government Accountability Office to evaluate EPA’s “plan for re-opening and resuming service at libraries that were closed over the past two years” and which Congress directed be restored. On March 26, 2008, GAO issued a scathing report blistering EPA’s recent campaign of library closures.
Details of surprisingly narrow EPA restoration plans have been dribbling out in the form of ambiguous, fragmented documents, the latest of which purports to outline a library strategic plan for “2008 and Beyond”. At the same time, EPA has not even begun consultations with its employee unions to resolve an unfair labor practices complaint concerning preemptory removal of libraries and services which have hampered the ability of agency professionals to do their jobs. Nor has EPA finished receiving public input in response to what it called a “National Dialogue” on environmental information.
“EPA apparently never had any intention of genuinely consulting with its employees, library experts or others who depend on the libraries,” Goldberg added. “There is little prospect of progress until whoever at EPA is responsible for closing these libraries – and keeping them shut – is gone.”