Experts are warning that the Trump administration’s jettisoning of scientific expertise–not to mention the president’s constant spreading of misinformation– has put the US in a much weaker position when dealing with the coronavirus.
It has been impossible to miss the Administration’s constant assault on science and fact. In the midst of the daily evidence of official malfeasance, however, it can be easy to overlook the very real consequences of that assault. A pandemic tends to focus public attention on the dangers of an anti-science administration, but those dangers go far beyond coronavirus.
TCE is a chemical that has been used widely for decades; it removes grease from electronics, medical devices, metal parts and aircraft, and it is used by dry cleaners. It is also often dumped and leaked, contaminating soil and groundwater in residential neighborhoods, military bases and industrial parks across the country.
Scientific studies have established that exposure to TCE, even at trace levels, is highly toxic to developing embryos. Toward the end of the Obama administration, the EPA had begun the process of banning several of its more common uses.
The Reveal reporters found that the Trump administration had recruited a “scientist” named DeSesso, known for his work on behalf of chemical companies (and for multiple conflicts of interest), to rebut the original study–the Johnson Report– and the fourteen subsequent studies, all of which had found that TCE was highly toxic.
Trump appointee Scott Pruitt halted the regulatory process, quietly dropping the proposed rule from its schedule of pending regulatory actions. The regulatory process would start over from scratch. No new restrictions would be announced until the EPA completed a fresh scientific evaluation.
That official evaluation was released for public comment last week, and it appears to show the influence of DeSesso and his chemical company sponsors. Dismissing the findings of the Johnson study and decades of scientific research, the published evaluation rejects fetal heart malformations as a benchmark for unsafe exposure levels to TCE.
“This decision is grave,” said Jennifer McPartland, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. “It not only underestimates the lifelong risks of the chemical, especially to the developing fetus, it also presents yet another example of this administration bowing to polluters’ interests over public health.”
EPA scientists had reviewed copious research and had concluded that even trace exposure to TCE is unsafe. The White House nevertheless directed the EPA to override the findings of its own scientists. TCE continues to be widely used–it has a $350-million-a-year global market, a quarter of which is in the United States, according to the EPA.
As the reporters note,
Even without new regulations, cleanup costs for manufacturers and users, including the U.S. government, could run into the billions of dollars. Workers and residents exposed to the chemical already have won multimillion-dollar settlements, including a cluster of men from the same part of Tucson who were all diagnosed with a rare testicular cancer.
Several high-profile lawsuits are pending, including two by former employees of Brookhaven National Laboratory, a federal lab in New York, who suffered from TCE-related kidney damage. Lawyers in Minnesota are gathering clients to sue Water Gremlin after the fishing sinker manufacturer was fined $7 million for violating air pollution limits for TCE. Residents’ complaints include neurological diseases and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, another cancer linked to TCE exposure….
The sheer scale of the liability risk has put TCE and the science linking it to fetal heart damage at the center of the chemical industry’s efforts to block regulation of its most toxic products since the early 2000s.
Reveal obtained an internal document issued by the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Dated Dec. 20, 2019, it’s titled “Risk Evaluation for Trichloroethylene.” Each page is stamped “Interagency draft – do not cite or quote.”
This sort of document is a routine part of the EPA’s mission to protect the environment and human health and to regulate human exposure to toxic chemicals. Before proposing any new chemical regulations, the agency deploys a team of staff scientists to conduct a rigorous evaluation of the scientific literature to establish unsafe exposure levels. The process, designed to be impartial, has been subjected to intense political interference by the Trump administration, according to the agency’s own Science Advisory Board. But the internal draft of this TCE evaluation, when compared with the published one, provides evidence of extensive, detailed and thoroughgoing edits that have not been documented in other cases.
I strongly encourage readers to click through and read the entire, extensive and horrifying article.
In addition to all the other damage being done by this criminal administration, it is clear that what Trump’s EPA is protecting are the wallets of polluters–not the environment, and most definitely not the lives or health of the American people.
Vote blue no matter who. Lives depend upon it.