May 14, 2018

Senator Hassan Calls on White House, EPA to Stop Blocking Release of Study About Health Impacts of PFOA and PFOS

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan today called on the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop blocking the release of an important study about the health impacts of PFOA and PFOS. Politico reported this morning on emails showing that Trump Administration officials actively blocked the release of a draft study that concludes that PFOA and PFOS pose a danger to public health at levels much lower than what the EPA had previously considered safe. 

“It is deeply troubling that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and leaders in the Trump Administration are purposefully blocking the release of important information about the health impacts of chemicals in drinking water, keeping this information from hard-working Granite Staters and Americans – all for the sake of protecting themselves from a ‘public relations nightmare,’” Senator Hassan said. 

“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. I call on Administrator Pruitt and other Trump Administration officials who have actively withheld such vital information to put the public health and safety of our people ahead of their own political interests. I call on President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to immediately release this important study so that New Hampshire can get the answers about these contaminants that they deserve.”

See below for excerpts from Politico’s coverage:

 

Politico Pro: Emails: White House intervened in chemicals study to head off 'public relations nightmare'

By Annie Snider

May 14, 2018

 

Trump administration officials sought to block the release of a draft study earlier this year that would have amplified health warnings about a class of toxic chemicals plaguing communities from New York to Michigan to West Virginia, according to recently disclosed emails.

 

The draft assessment would present a "public relations nightmare," one White House official wrote in January, as a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services readied to publish it.

               

The White House asked aides to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to intervene, warning that the study could cause major problems for the EPA and the Department of Defense. EPA political appointees, including Pruitt's chief of staff and a former chemical industry official, questioned the methodology being used by career scientists within the Health and Human Services and sought to intervene in their research.

 

More than three months later, the draft assessment remains unpublished, and HHS's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says it has no scheduled date to release it for public comment. And critics say the delay shows the Trump administration is placing politics ahead of an urgent public health concern.

 

Pruitt had faced staunch criticism for his handling of science at the agency, even before the recent spate of ethics scandals, which has resulted in numerous investigations into his penchant for upscale travel and coziness with lobbyists. In his year leading EPA, he has overhauled several scientific advisory panels to include more industry representatives and recently unveiled a scientific directive that would limit the agency's ability to use studies on the effects of pollution on people's health if they include private medical information.

 

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.

 

The unreleased HHS assessment concluded that those chemicals pose a danger to human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously said was safe, according to internal EPA emails that were released to the Union of Concerned Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

[…] But some 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.

 

An HHS 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.

 

The discussions about how to address the HHS study involved Pruitt's chief of staff and other top aides, including a chemical industry official who is now overseeing the agency's chemical safety office, according to the emails obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

 

On Jan. 30, James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the White House Office of Management and Budget, forwarded an email from another White House aide about the forthcoming assessment to EPA's top financial officer.

 

"The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge," that forwarded email, whose author is not identified, reads. "The impact to EPA and DoD 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."

 

[…] Yogin Kothari, a lobbyist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, called Beck's January email "extremely troubling because it appears as though the White House is trying to interfere in a science-based risk assessment."

Environmentalists say such interference was routine during the Bush administration.

 

[…] 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.

Dave Andrews, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, said those conclusions line up with recent studies on the health effects of PFAS.

 

"They are looking at very subtle effects like increased risk of obesity for children exposed in womb, lowered immune response, and childhood vaccines becoming not as effective," Andrews said.

 

The HHS document at issue is called a toxicological profile, which describes the dangers of a chemical based on a review of previous scientific studies. It would carry no regulatory weight itself, but could factor into cleanup requirements at Superfund sites. […]

 

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