A growing list of US lawmakers are demanding release of a suppressed study that details concerns about toxic chemicals in the drinking water of millions of Americans.
Eleven senators last week sent a letter to the heads of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expressing concern that “unacceptable” suppression of the document.
"Given the wide use ... and presence of these chemicals in communities across the US, it is critical that this report be released without delay and that EPA act immediately to update its guidelines to ensure Americans are informed of and protected from the danger of exposure to these toxins," the letter said.
A Freedom of Information Act filing by the US’s Union of Concerned Scientists in May revealed that the USEPA sought to block a federal government report on water contamination showing that chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than USEPA has previously called safe.
USEPA and White House internal emails showed concern that publication of the study produced by HHS’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) would be a “public relations nightmare” and “a disaster” for USEPA’s reputation as well as the Department of Defense which is responsible for much of the pollution in question, which is associated with chemical plants, US military installations and other sites.
Nationwide, 564 public or private drinking water systems near military bases had contamination above the existing USEPA advisory level as of August 2017, the US military said in a recent report.
“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 US Office of Management and Budget (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More than three months later, the draft study remains unpublished, and ATSDR says it has no scheduled date to release it for public comment.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.
USEPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a Donald Trump appointee, has previously come under fire for placing industry advocates in charge of issues like chemical safety.