- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

Two senators are coming to the defense of a scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency who will be leaving Wednesday because he says he blew the whistle on bad science.

David L. Lewis, a microbiologist for the EPA, has warned for years that the agency was discounting the risk to public health of using sewage sludge as fertilizer on farms and golf courses.

“If EPA fires Dr. Lewis, it will be cutting off its nose to spite its face,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, wrote in a letter yesterday. “The EPA should be finding ways to keep experts like Dr. Lewis and take advantage of his knowledge, not send him packing. I hope Administrator Whitman will do the right thing.”

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, also has sent correspondence to EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman — co-signed by Mr. Grassley — inquiring about the EPA’s treatment of Mr. Lewis.

Edward D. Krenik, associate administrator of the EPA, responded to the senators’ letter last night. He said Mr. Lewis’ “separation from employment” had nothing to do with his scientific findings, but was the result of a previous agreement to resign from the agency.

“Please be aware that Dr. Lewis’ separation from employment is the result of a settlement agreement entered into between EPA and Dr. Lewis … which resolved a previous matter in litigation,” Mr. Krenik wrote. “Dr. Lewis, who was represented by personal legal counsel when he entered into the agreement, voluntarily agreed to resign or retire no later than May 28, 2003.”

Mr. Lewis’ attorney, Stephen M. Kohn, could not be reached last night to respond to Mr. Krenik’s letter.

Mr. Lewis published his findings on the EPA’s “sludge rule” in the scientific journal Nature in 1996. He wrote that the EPA did not conduct enough research on the health risks of pathogens in the sludge, which contains human feces, hospital waste and various other chemical compounds.

Mr. Lewis’ research was subject to peer review and confirmed by the National Research Council in a report released in July. The EPA has since taken steps to change its “sludge rule” to more closely comport with those conclusions, said a Senate Republican staffer who has been following this matter.

“Here’s a whistleblower who has been proven right,” said the Republican staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I think this is just a case of some high-level bureaucrat who wants him gone, and they’re using some legal mumbo jumbo to get him.”

In March 2000, Mr. Lewis’ findings, and his accusations of harassment for publicizing them, were the subject of a hearing before the House Science Committee.

“A number of congressmen spoke there and were outraged over his treatment, even then,” said Mr. Kohn, who is chairman of the National Whistleblower Center.

Mr. Kohn said the EPA is justifying the firing of Mr. Lewis based on a “creative” interpretation of employment rules. Mr. Lewis left direct employment with the EPA in order to work for four years at the University of Georgia under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act.

By law, Mr. Lewis upon his return to the agency was supposed to be granted four years of employment at the EPA, Mr. Kohn said. However, he has been back at the agency for less than a year.

“Before any termination of Dr. Lewis, we ask that you inform us in writing of your plan for Dr. Lewis, the reasons for your decision, and a response to [our] concerns,” Mr. Grassley and Mr. Inhofe wrote to Mrs. Whitman.

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