Scott Pruitt's Last Act at EPA: Blocking Cancer-Causing Chemical Warnings

Advisers to the departing EPA Administrator may be delaying a dire warning.

by Josie Rhodes Cook
ABC News/YouTube

Scott Pruitt may have resigned on Thursday, but his obstructionist legacy will live on through a disturbing last act. Two Environmental Protection Agency officials, a current and a former employee, reportedly told POLITICO that the Trump administration, and top advisers to departing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt specifically, are suppressing a report about formaldehyde vapor and its impact on most Americans.

Considering the other damage Pruitt did in his role as head of the EPA — his goal was basically to thwart the EPA’s mission to protect the environment, and he even sued the EPA many times over regulations dealing with air quality and pollution before he even took the job — this latest revelation adds yet another disturbing layer to Pruitt’s EPA leadership legacy.

The EPA did not immediately respond to Inverse’s request for comment on the allegations.

In a draft health assessment EPA scientists completed not long before Donald Trump became president, a report warned that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapor in the course of everyday life to put them at risk of developing leukemia, as well as other ailments, the officials told POLITICO.

However, those officials claim that top advisers to Pruitt are allegedly delaying the release of the report in an attempt to undermine the agency’s independent research regarding the health risks of toxic chemicals.

The new assessment would strengthen warnings about the chemical’s risks, and might lead to stricter regulations from the EPA or possibly a class-action lawsuits targeting manufacturers, POLITICO reported Friday.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas that is used to make building materials and household products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Formaldehyde is used to make walls, cabinets, and furniture, and is already known to cause cancer.

This EPA report may further illustrate how regular exposure to the chemical can affect people, but the officials reportedly said that not only have Trump appointees required that career officials receive their permission before beginning a required internal review of the formaldehyde study, but that they’ve also canceled briefings that would have advanced it.

In a statement, the EPA denied that the assessment was being delayed or suppressed, and a spokeswoman, Kelsi Daniell, told POLITICO:

EPA continues to discuss this assessment with our agency program partners and have no further updates to provide at this time. Assessments of this type are often the result of needs for particular rulemakings and undergo an extensive intra-agency and interagency process.

And before anyone gets hopeful about the advancement of this assessment now that Pruitt is out, consider this: his successor, Andrew Wheeler, was staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee back in 2004. His boss, then-Chairman Jim Inhofe, persuaded the EPA to delay an earlier, planned revision of the formaldehyde health assessment. So Wheeler and the chemical have a murky history too.

As a fan of fracking, a supporter of the coal industry, and a noted global warming skeptic, Pruitt’s work at the EPA may have done lasting damage. But this allegedly suppressed study, which officials claim was delayed during his time there, may do more damage yet.

Inverse reached out to Daniell at the EPA and this article may be updated.

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