Back in the Limelight

Results of a federal study on a nation-wide water contamination crisis have been suppressed by Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House.

In newly revealed emails, an administration aide discouraged the release of the data, saying it would cause a “public relations nightmare.”

The study, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), focused on a series of toxic chemicals that have contaminated water supplies throughout the nation.

Results of the investigation show that damage to human health as a result of exposure to these chemicals occurs at much lower levels of exposure than previously thought.

In a newly released email forwarded by James Herz, who oversees environmental issues at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), an unidentified White House aid writes:

“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge. The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”

The email was sent January 30 and the draft study remains unpublished.

Representative Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) has called for the release of the study and has requested that the House Government Oversight Committee conduct an investigation into the issue.

“That lobbyists, industry insiders, and political appointees could have played a role in the decision not to release this study is beyond the pale. Congress must hold hearings and investigate how it is possible that the EPA, the White House, and HHS have, for months, possessed research that could have helped families understand the health impacts of their exposure to toxic chemicals, but instead, have failed to even tell anyone that this study exists at all.” – Shea-Porter in a press release

The results of the study may have particularly impactful consequences for the Department of Defense (DOD), which uses a foam containing the chemicals in training exercises, not only exposing soldiers but also contaminating nearby water supplies as well.

In a report to Congress in March, the DOD listed 126 sites where military exercises had taken place with dangerous levels of the chemicals which are known to cause a host of health problems including thyroid issues, complications in pregnancy, and cancer.

Of course, the study itself does not carry any regulatory weight, but its results may be used in the future to implement stricter standards for Superfund site cleanups, making the process significantly more expensive and time consuming for both the military as well as chemical companies.

The current administration has already proposed cutting Superfund cleanup funding by $238 million, despite the fact that research shows that individuals living near Superfund sites are 6% more likely to receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.

“Families who have been exposed to emerging contaminants in their drinking water have a right to know about any health impacts, and keeping such information from the public threatens the safety, health, and vitality of communities across our country.” – Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH)

Ryan Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, attempted to defend the EPA’s actions, claiming that the agency is helping to “ensure that the federal government is responding in a uniform way to our local, state, and Congressional constituents and partners.”

Pruitt has been at the center of an impressive number of scandals throughout his term, including the installation of an illegal soundproof phone booth in his home office.


To read our coverage of EPA Director Scott Pruitt, click here and here.

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