“Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the White House sought to block publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis, after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a ‘public relations nightmare,’ newly disclosed emails reveal.
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.
‘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.’
More than three months later, the draft study remains unpublished, and the HHS unit says it has no scheduled date to release it for public comment. Critics say the delay shows the Trump administration is placing politics ahead of an urgent public health concern — something they had feared would happen after agency leaders like Pruitt started placing industry advocates in charge of issues like chemical safety…
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a fellow New Hampshire Democrat, called the delay ‘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.’
The emails portray a ‘brazenly political’ response to the contamination crisis, said Judith Enck, a former EPA official who dealt with the same pollutants during the Obama administration — saying it goes far beyond a normal debate among scientists.
‘Scientists always debate each other, but under the law, ATSDR is the agency that’s supposed to make health recommendations,’ she said.”
Read the full article by Annie Snider