Scott Pruitt came to the EPA with the explicit aim of making the agency friendlier to industry, since obviously its first 40-odd years were biased in favor of air, water, wildlife, and human health. As if we really needed another demonstration of the new priority, Politico revealed yesterday that the EPA and the White House teamed up to deep-six a federal study on the health effects of a major chemical contaminant in water, because it would have been really bad publicity for Donald Trump’s Deregulate Everything agenda. The study hasn’t been released, but the Union of Concerned Scientists learned of its delay through emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):
The intervention early this year — not previously disclosed — came as HHS’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was preparing to publish its assessment of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia.
The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously called safe, according to the emails.
Those emails go back to January, but the ATSDR told Politico no date has been scheduled to release the report for public comment, the first step in changing regulations based on the new science. Would you like a smoking gun making clear that this is all about politics? Well we can help!
“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” one unidentified White House aide said in an email forwarded on Jan. 30 by James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the OMB. The email added: “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.”
Looks like yet another battle with the Deep State there. Why didn’t those stupid scientists realize their evidence would be just terrible for the administration, not to mention costly to clean up? Where’s their sense of loyalty? Probably to Obama.
Senator Maggie Hassan wasn’t pleased, not one bit. The New Hampshire Democrat, when informed of the emails by Politico, called the administration’s apparent suppression of the report “disturbing” and called for Trump to release the study immediately, as if presidents ever listened to members of the wrong party. Just to give Trump another New Hampshire Democrat to ignore, Senator Jeanne Shaheen echoed Hassan, calling the delay in releasing the study
an egregious example of politics interfering with the public’s right to know. … [I]t’s unconscionable that even the existence of this study has been withheld until now.
See? Only enemies of the “president” are interested in getting this information out. Obviously another attack on America itself. Of course, if you want to get all fact-based about it, the ATSDR is just doing its job, according to Judith Enck, a former EPA official who was in charge of regulating the chemicals in question:
“Scientists always debate each other, but under the law, ATSDR is the agency that’s supposed to make health recommendations,” she said.
We should note, however, that Enck worked at EPA under the Obama administration and is therefore disloyal and can be safely ignored. Are you seeing any Trump administration appointees saying the report should be released? Case closed.
Say, what are the chemicals in the study anyway?
The chemicals at issue in the HHS study have long been used in products like Teflon and firefighting foam, and are contaminating water systems around the country. Known as PFOA and PFOS, they have been linked with thyroid defects, problems in pregnancy and certain cancers, even at low levels of exposure.
Oh, yeah — PFOA is the subject of a bejillion lawsuits against DuPont, because the company knew back in the 1960s that the compound was making its own workers sick, but DuPont hid the evidence while continuing to use PFOA and spilling it all over the place. PFOS, a very similar substance, was used by 3M in making Scotchguard, and the company paid out $1.5 billion in a settlement of lawsuits over water pollution and injuries to people. PFOA and PFOS are part of a larger class of chemicals known as “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS,” which Scott Pruitt has said are a priority for EPA. Except for how EPA also seems to be trying to hide this study showing that the harmful level of exposure is far lower than the EPA previously thought:
In 2016, the agency published a voluntary health advisory for PFOA and PFOS, warning that exposure to the chemicals at levels above 70 parts per trillion, total, could be dangerous. One part per trillion is roughly the equivalent of a single grain of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The updated HHS assessment was poised to find that exposure to the chemicals at less than one-sixth of that level could be dangerous for sensitive populations like infants and breastfeeding mothers, according to the emails.
Go ahead and grab 11 and a half grains of sand and hold them next to an Olympic pool if you really need to visualize that. Or better, don’t because you don’t need to know about it. It’s not like there’s really much of a problem here, is there?
[S]ome of the biggest liabilities reside with the Defense Department, which used foam containing the chemicals in exercises at bases across the country. In a March report to Congress, the Defense Department listed 126 facilities where tests of nearby water supplies showed the substances exceeded the current safety guidelines.
A government study concluding that the chemicals are more dangerous than previously thought could dramatically increase the cost of cleanups at sites like military bases and chemical manufacturing plants, and force neighboring communities to pour money into treating their drinking water supplies.
Gosh, that does sound inconvenient, not to mention really bad PR for the Trump administration’s dream of rolling back the administrative state. Good thing no one found out about that report, huh?
In other Scott Pruitt news, we also learned yesterday from the Washington Post — again, based on internal EPA emails — that despite the many, many times the EPA and Pruitt have insisted he needs a 20-person armed security detail to protect him from violent liberal death threats, Pruitt actually got 24/7 security starting his first day in office. Had there been threats against him during the transition? Nope, not according to the EPA’s inspector general, Arthur Elkins, in reply to inquiries from Democratic senators.
Turns out the increased security was approved before Pruitt even started work, based on a hunch by Don Benton, Trump’s appointed political watcher for the EPA, who sent emails saying Pruitt should have beefed up security in advance of Trump executive orders on environmental deregulation, which Benton thought would “likely stir the hornets nest.” Not surprisingly, WaPo spoke to “an individual with direct knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation,” who said there weren’t any actual threats against Pruitt when he took office. But since then, someone did post a social media message reading, “Pruitt, I’m gonna find you and put a bullet between your eyes. Don’t think I’m joking. I’m planning this,” so that obviously warrants 20 bodyguards — taken off duty from actually enforcing the few environmental laws still in effect — at all times, at a bargain cost of over $3 million to date. That, and the threatening mustache drawn on a Time magazine cover.
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