Donald Trump has tried to sell the public on two ideas: that EPA restrictions on dumping chemicals into America’s water supply have to go, and that we can still have “clean, clean water … the cleanest.” If it seems difficult for both things to be true, it’s because they are not. That’s why, as Politico reports, Scott Pruitt’s EPA and Trump’s White House teamed up in an attempt to block a report on water contamination after one White House staffer warned that the report would be a “public relations nightmare.”
The report comes from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is actually a part of HHS. But the contents of that report have been blocked from publication, along with any action to address the problems it records, because of concerns raised by Pruitt and Trump staffers.
The chemicals involved are known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFOA and PFOS). They’re often produced in making stain-repellent and anti-stick materials. They’re also involved in making a fire-fighting foam used by the military, leading to increased amounts near military bases. The EPA already has a drinking water advisory in place that sets the safe level for these chemicals at a truly tiny 70 parts per trillion, but the new study indicates that these classes of chemicals are even more dangerous than previously thought, and safe levels may be six times lower than the current standards.
Which means that both the Defense Department and some big companies like 3M, which uses these chemicals in making Scotchguard, are facing some enormous clean-up costs. It also means that the safety of water systems in many areas of the country need to be reevaluated. Or … it would mean that, if the report were released. But three months after the report was submitted, Pruitt and the White House continue to sit on it.
“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 OMB.
But only if the public, the media, and Congress read the report.
The report is not out there. And there is no current date for when it is going to be out there. Despite the urgency of the health issues raised in the draft report, the concern at the EPA is focused not on Americans who may be subject to unsafe levels of chemicals, but on industries that might have to absorb the cost of their mess.
Pruitt has mimicked Trump in declaring water quality a “signature issue,” even while he has worked to end significant regulations. The failure to approve the study comes after Pruitt placed explicit limits on public health data by throwing out any report that protects the privacy of participants, as required by law. Under the pretense that protecting individual participants in studies is “secret science,” Republicans have defended throwing out many of the baseline studies that define the Clean Water Act.
Pruitt’s chief of staff declared that the EPA’s refusal to allow the release of the report was because the agency was trying to make sure the government was “responding in a uniform way.” Which would seem to indicate that the EPA was not just using Pruitt’s new science-suppression standards on reports created by or for the EPA, but has extended his information-wall to block data from other agencies.
PFOA and PFOS are extremely widespread. They are found in almost every water supply across the nation. If the new HHS report is accurate, the contamination may be a quiet crisis that has already injured or killed Americans for decades.