Skip to main content

The 'Secret Science' Rule Could Prevent the EPA From Using a Key Global Buildings Study

A forthcoming Harvard University study on the effects of buildings on public health could be stymied by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's transparency proposal, E&E News reports.

As Pacific Standard reported in April, Pruitt's proposed policy would allow the agency to develop significant policies using only studies that rely on publicly available data. The EPA has called the proposed rule a move toward increased transparency and data-sharing.

But many Democratic members of Congress and scientists oppose the rule on the grounds that it could keep the EPA from using important public-health research, much of which includes confidential personal information about its participants that cannot be made public.

That's exactly the concern when it comes to Harvard's global buildings study. This multi-year study looks at how office workers' indoor environment affects their health and productivity.

As Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists told E&E News, anonymizing the Harvard study's data—that is, removing confidential information so that the data can be made public—would be "virtually impossible" because participants' identities could be gleaned from the building they work in.

The kinds of regulatory actions for which the EPA might use the global buildings study would likely be considered significant enough to warrant the data's exclusion under the transparency proposal.