EPA Science Panel Disbanded
On October 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disbanded the particulate matter (PM) review panel. In the past, the panel has provided advice to EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which is responsible for reviewing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for criteria pollutants. Under the Clean Air Act, CASAC is required to periodically review the NAAQS, and recommend appropriate changes thereto to protect public health. When reviewing the NAAQS for PM, CASAC has historically relied on advice from the PM review panel, which is comprised of two dozen university researchers and others with special expertise on the health effects of PM. The panel will not, however, have a role in CASAC’s next review. On October 11, EPA sent an email to panel members, informing them that “the CASAC PM Review Panel will no longer be involved with the Agency’s PM NAAQS Review and your service on the panel has concluded.”
Following the disbanding of the PM review panel, 19 of its 20 members formed the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, which continued to assess the scientific basis for revising the NAAQS. In October 2019, the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel held a two-day workshop to discuss the relevant science, and subsequently published a report concluding that the available evidence warranted tightening the NAAQS for PM.
On December 10, 2018, EPA published “Preliminary Comments from Members of the CASAC on EPA’s Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter.” The comments submitted by two CASAC members — Dr. Mark Frampton and Dr. Tim Lewis — criticize EPA’s decision to disband the PM review panel. Dr. Frampton, who is a retired pulmonologist previously based at the University of Rochester, wrote:
“Over the past 30 years, NAAQS document reviews by CASAC have been assisted by expert review panels that supplement and expand the scientific expertise brought to bear. The seven chartered CASAC members by themselves do not have the breadth and depth of knowledge or expertise in many areas that is necessary to adequately advise the EPA, and to meet the statutory requirement for a thorough and accurate review.
In order to provide the needed expertise in the review process, EPA should immediately re-appoint the PM review panel, and convene an additional CASAC public meeting to review and discuss the panel’s comments, before CASAC finalizes its advice on the current draft ISA [i.e., the Integrated Science Assessment].”
Dr. Lewis, who works at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, wrote:
“The PM advisory panel should be retained to enable more thorough review of this ISA.”
At a meeting of CASAC members on March 28, 2019, Chair Dr. Tony Cox agreed with Dr. Frampton and Dr. Lewis that the committee needs additional expertise to complete its review of the PM NAAQS. The members of CASAC agreed to request that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler reconvene the PM review panel to assist with the review.
On December 16, 2019, EPA published "Comments by CASAC Members on the EPA’s Policy Assessment for the Review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter (External Review Draft – September 2019)." In his comments, Dr. Mark Frampton again criticized EPA's decision to disband the PM review panel, and expressed concern that CASAC members and external consultants appointed to assist them do "not have the breadth or depth of expertise that was represented on the original (dismissed) PM panel." He stated:
"The newly appointed panel of consultants does not include sufficient expertise and experience in air pollution epidemiology research. This is a scientific discipline that is obviously of key importance in the review of the PM standards. None of the current chartered CASAC members are experts in air pollution epidemiology. In addition, the restrictive process for interacting with the newly appointed consultants, which was imposed by EPA without consultation with CASAC, prevents open and frank discussions that are part of the process of achieving consensus. These limitations adversely affect the ability of CASAC to provide the EPA with the best and most relevant advice on the adequacy of the current NAAQS."
On June 10, 2020, the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, which was formed by members of the disbanded EPA PM review panel, published an article which concludes "unequivocally and unanimously . . . that the current PM2.5 standards do not adequately protect public health."
Biden Administration Response:
On March 31, 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced that the Particulate Matter Review Panel would be re-established.
On June 17, 2021, EPA issued a request for public nominations of scientific experts for the Particulate Matter Review Panel. EPA subsequently appointed 22 new experts to the panel. The panel held its first public meeting on October 14, 2021, and has additional public meetings scheduled for November 17, 18, and 19, and December 1 and 2, 2021.