Just over a year ago, Scott Pruitt resigned as chair of the Environmental Protection Agency. Many Americans were relieved. Not only was he involved in some ethical scandals — remember his $43,000 soundproof booth? — he managed to reverse decades of EPA action.
As CNN said, “Pruitt moved aggressively to scale back Obama-era moves on climate change, automobile pollution standards and other industrial pollutants.”
But former White House climate adviser Paul Bledsoe saw Andrew Wheeler, the 20-year Washington insider in line for Pruitt’s position, as a greater danger.
Apparently, Bledsoe was prophetic. One year after Wheeler’s appointment, Elliott Negin of the Union of Concerned Scientists writes that Wheeler had been the “driving force” behind many of President Trump’s 80 attacks on science.
Negan listed the 10 “more egregious” changes in an article for the Independent Media Institute. He concluded that, by the EPA’s own accounting, “millions of Americans will be drinking filthier water and breathing dirtier air, and more will suffer from serious diseases.”
In most of the country the changes will occur bit by bit, and we won’t be sure they cause any one illness; we’ll just see the overall statistics change — as with storms and global warming.
Three items on Negin’s list seem echoes of a distant past — coal ash, formaldehyde, and asbestos.
Apparently, coal-fired power plants dump coal ash containing arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury into more than 1,000 giant, unlined pits. A 2015 rule required companies to monitor these coal ash ponds;over 90 percent of them reported “unsafe levels of toxic contaminants.”
So the EPA has given states the right to set different standards and extended deadlines for stopping the pollution. A pending proposal would allow unlimited dumping of coal ash — no pits, just acres of ash spread on dirt within feet of the groundwater.
A little arsenic, a little lead, a smattering of mercury seems OK to the current administration — they’re in someone else’s neighborhood.
Formaldehyde, however, isn’t limited geographically. An “off-gas” is produced by cigarettes, embalming fluid, plywood, particle board, paints, and floor finishes. In small doses, it causes eyes to water. In 1985 the EPA identified it as “probable human carcinogen” associated with fairly rare cancers of the throat and sinuses.
But studies in 2009 and 2010 showed a positive correlation between formaldehyde exposure and leukemia. In 2016 the EPA formulated new rules for formaldehyde presence, but they didn’t become official.
Wheeler told Congress that further review of the EPA report labeling formaldehyde a carcinogen is needed because the science may now be out of date.
Meanwhile, 34,000 new cases of throat and sinus cancers and leukemia are diagnosed each year — and the EPA has set strict formaldehyde standards for buildings constructed for the agency.
And, somehow asbestos — not manufactured in the U.S. since 2002 — is still found throughout the country. Negin says 55 nations have banned it, but the U.S. still imports asbestos for use in items such as auto brakes, roofing, vinyl floor tiles, and cement pipes.
A new, “stricter” rule says that manufacturers may continue to use asbestos with EPA approval.
Negin adds, “One of the deadliest known carcinogens, asbestos kills nearly 40,000 Americans annually, mainly from lung cancer.”
I guess Trump supporters are happy that the president has kept his promises and cut regulations. Perhaps his administration’s practices have led to production increases and greater incomes for shareholders and executives.
But the price is health and lives.
You can read Negin’s seven other “decimated EPA protections” here.