The Environmental Protection Agency has begun closing some of its scientific libraries, effectively preventing scientists and the public from accessing essential information on toxic pollution, according to an action alert from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Several libraries have already been dismantled, with their contents either destroyed or shipped to repositories where they are uncatalogued and inaccessible.

Among the libraries that have already closed are the agency's South Central Region 6 library, which served Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 65 Indian tribes. The other facilities that have closed are the agency's headquarters library and the libraries for Region 5, with headquarters in Chicago; Region 7, based in Kansas City, Kan.; and the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances.

The EPA has reportedly denied the closures, though UCS says they've been confirmed by firsthand accounts from EPA employees. Furthermore, the EPA's own Web site links to a plan of action for closing libraries and dispersing or disposing of materials. It cites a drop in walk-in traffic due to increased security and greater reliance on electronic documents as the reason for the closures.

House Democratic leaders last week called on the EPA to halt the closures pending Congressional review, Environment News Service reports:

In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, Ranking Members Congressmen Bart Gordon of Tennessee, John Dingell of Michigan, Henry Waxman of California, and James Oberstar of Minnesota expressed their concerns over the current implementation of "library reorganization" plans and the "destruction or disposition" of library holdings.

"It is imperative that the valuable government information maintained by EPA's libraries be preserved," wrote the ranking members.

This letter to the administrator follows a successful effort earlier this fall by the Congressmen to initiate a Government Accountability Office, GAO, investigation of current EPA actions regarding their libraries and informational resources. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, has begun its review.

The letter follows a call earlier this month from Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and 16 other senators to the Appropriations Committee asking the EPA to be directed to halt the closures "while the Agency solicits and considers public input on its plan to drastically cut its library budget and services," the American Library Association reports.

After UCS issued its alert about the closures on Friday, protest calls reportedly began pouring into the office of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. UCS is asking the public to keep up the pressure by calling Johnson at (202) 564-4700 and urging him to immediately halt the dismantling of the library system until Congress approves the EPA budget and all materials are readily available online.