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16th May 2018
EDITOR
Published on Tuesday, May 15, 2018
byCommon Dreams

'This Is a Big Deal': Fearing 'Public Relations Nightmare,' Pruitt's EPA Blocked Release of a Major Water Contamination Study

Journalists, members of Congress, environmental and public health advocates, and water experts are all calling on the Trump administration to "immediately" release the report

by Jessica Corbett, staff writer

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.

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"óas well as by the Department of Defense, when it conducts exercises at U.S. basesódespite 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.

"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.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who was raised in and now represents Flint, Michiganówhich has been poisoned by a water crisis created by state-mandated austerity measuresóresponded with a letter to Trump-appointed HHS Secretary Alex Azar, demanding that he "immediately" release the study.

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