Fearing a "public relations nightmare," President Donald Trump's White House and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the reign of administrator Scott Pruitt, blocked the release of a major water contamination story, according to emails obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists and reported on by Politico.
News of the Trump administration's interference with a federal study on "a nationwide water-contamination crisis" infuriated reporters, politicians, experts, and advocates for public health and the environment. Friends of the Earth tweeted, "Scott Pruitt is more worried about journalists than poisoning millions of Americans."
"There's a lot of bleak news today, but this is important," journalist Mariah Blake said Monday, pointing to the Politico report.
There’s a lot of bleak news today, but this is important. The White House & Pruitt’s EPA are blocking release of a federal study about the dire health effects of a class of chemicals that pollutes 10-plus million American’s drinking water. #pfoa #pfas https://t.co/iL7nZGfpho
— Mariah Blake (@MariahCBlake) May 14, 2018
The chemicals that were under review are PFOA and PFOS, which, as Politico notes, "have long been used in products like Teflon and firefighting foam"—as well as by the Department of Defense, when it conducts exercises at U.S. bases—despite the fact that they "have been linked with thyroid defects, problems in pregnancy, and certain cancers, even at low levels of exposure."
The study, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), reportedly shows that these chemicals are dangerous to human health at far lower levels than previously known or diclosed by the EPA, and have "contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants, and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia."
One email sent by a White House aide to a staffer who oversees environmental issues at the Office of Budget and Management said:
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.
"Soon after the Trump White House raised concerns about the impending study," Politico reports, "EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson reached out to his HHS counterpart, as well as senior officials in charge of the agency overseeing the assessment to discuss coordinating work among HHS, EPA, and the Pentagon." However, according to HHS, there are no plans to publicly release the study.
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"Only Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration would consider reducing drinking water contamination for the American people to be a 'nightmare,'" remarked Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
"This is a big deal," oceanographer Jamie Collins said of the study and efforts to block its release.
This is a big deal. #PFOS & #PFOA water contamination is disturbingly widespread and the science to support the significance of the threat has been very well-established. Lots of industry & government collusion to prevent this from surfacing. https://t.co/DGOjfBMeOy
— Jamie Collins (@jamesrco) May 15, 2018
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who was raised in and now represents Flint, Michigan—which has been poisoned by a water crisis created by state-mandated austerity measures—responded with a letter to Trump-appointed HHS Secretary Alex Azar, demanding that he "immediately" release the study.
Why is the Trump Administration blocking the release of a water contamination study?
I call on @EPAScottPruitt & @SecAzar to immediately release the chemical pollution study so that the public has the most up-to-date info on #PFOA and #PFOS. My letter: https://t.co/NY4PimLJId pic.twitter.com/V3w63XKykr
— Rep. Dan Kildee (@RepDanKildee) May 14, 2018
In a series of tweets, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) also called on the Trump administration to release the study:
Families who have been exposed to emerging contaminants in their drinking water have a right to know about any health impacts. For the sake of the health and safety of these communities, the Administration must immediately release the report they have been withholding.
— Sen. Maggie Hassan (@SenatorHassan) May 14, 2018