Former EPA analyst Vallianatos exposes the agency’s failure to safeguard the environment and public health in Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA.

How has the EPA’s mission of protecting public health and the environment been compromised?

The chemical industry has been a powerhouse in its own right. Its production of pesticides gave it additional wealth and power because pesticides have been made essential for food production. Even before the EPA came into being, this agrichemical-agribusiness colossus wielded lots of influence in both American farming and the environment. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush nearly dismantled the EPA and Democratic presidents pretend environmentalism is good while doing the bidding of the pesticides industry.

How can toxic chemicals enter the market without proper testing yet still meet EPA standards?

Most chemicals enter the market without testing. Industry reports to EPA with rudimentary information about the chemicals they put up for sale, permitting the companies to advertise their products of “meeting EPA standards.” The relatively few chemicals tested before EPA approval like pesticides are questionable because the EPA allows the companies themselves or private labs to test for human safety and ecological effects. The record of private testing cannot give us confidence for the integrity of such a process.

How does the abundance of political appointees contribute to the agency’s failures?

Political appointees are usually the products of the “revolving door” of industry representatives within the government. This usually means less stringent testing, no testing, approval without evidence of public benefits or concern for hazards, etc.

Are pesticides used excessively and abused?

The history of pesticide use in the U.S. has been one of overuse and abuse. The effects of pesticides include all kinds of diseases, from neurological damage to liver and kidney pathologies to a variety of cancers. Out in the natural world, pesticides poison food and water, and kill wildlife.

Whistleblowers are hushed by a code of silence and poor access to data. Can transparency be increased?

Whistleblowers are not typical. They are motivated by selfless ideals of public service. Transparency laws need enforcement as well. But it would be better if honesty prevailed at EPA.

Are you worried about the number of smaller family farms currently being swallowed by corporate giants?

The loss of family farms has been a calamity for democracy, good food, and environmental protection for America. My hope is that the emerging organic farming will, in time, become the country’s small family farming.

Can the EPA be redeemed?

Citizens must be outraged enough to give birth to a new EPA entirely dedicated to protecting their health and the health of the natural world; an independent EPA protected from lobbyists and politicians and the Congress–White House complex. A constitutional amendment could do that.