The Slatest

Report: the EPA Halted Publication of Research About Chemical Pollutants After White House Warned of PR “Nightmare”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

Newly released emails have shown that the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House halted the publication of new research on chemical pollutants after one White House official warned of the “potential public relations nightmare” publishing the research could bring.

According to a report by Politico, the Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry had concluded that pollutants produced by large chemical plants and military bases pose a danger to human health at levels lower than previously thought. That finding could lead to far higher costs for companies and for the Defense Department if it translated into higher standards for cleaning up water sources to prevent contamination. But it has been more than three months since the study was finished, and the HHS confirmed that there is no plan to publish its results.

The EPA defended the inaction as a matter of taking the time to coordinate responses to “local, state, and Congressional constituents and partners.”

The chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS, are found in water supplies all over the country. According to the EPA, they are used to make fabrics, packaging, and cookware, and they are present in firefighting foam, among other products and processes. Most people have been exposed to them at some level, and in certain quantities, they have been linked to thyroid issues and even cancer.

Emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed that a White House aide warned of the damage the study’s results could have on the EPA and on the Defense Department. “The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” the aide wrote. The political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the Office of Management and Budget then forwarded that email to the EPA’s top financial officer.

A top EPA official then suggested that the study be sent to the OMB for an interagency review, according to Politico. This official, who had worked for the OMB during the Bush administration, wrote that the OMB “played this role quite a bit under the Bush Administration, but under Obama they just let each agency do their own thing.”

Pruitt has repeatedly favored the voice of industry in his agency, replacing academic scientists with industry representatives on advisory boards. The EPA has, during Pruitt’s administration, flaunted records laws, and Pruitt himself has been notably protective of any information that could attract negative press, violating spending laws to install privacy booths in his office and even keeping his appearances secret out of fear of public scrutiny.