“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” a White House staffer wrote in a newly revealed email, calling the release of a new Department of Health and Human Services study a “potential public relations nightmare.”
After the White House forwarded the staffer’s email to the Environmental Protection Agency, which also oversees the chemical industry and consulted with HHS, the study was suppressed and remains unpublished.
Meanwhile, communities across the country may be exposed to unhealthful levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, chemicals linked to thyroid conditions, weakened immune systems, developmental defects and other health problems.
Now the email is out, even as the HHS report remains under wraps, and the administration looks both secretive and uncaring about Americans’ health.
At issue are chemicals known as PFAS, which were used for decades in nonstick coatings and firefighting foam. Though they are being phased out, these chemicals linger in the environment and in human tissue, and in sufficient amounts they can do serious damage.
The EPA found in 2016 that PFAS drinking-water concentrations above 70 parts per trillion are dangerous. The White House Office of Management and Budget, where the email appears to have originated, did not respond to a request for an explanation. For his part, EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson argued that his agency is trying to “ensure that the federal government is responding in a uniform way to our local, state, and Congressional constituents and partners.”
The EPA stressed that it is holding a conference on PFAS next week, at which the chemicals’ risk profile will be addressed. That’s good.
Before that happens, HHS should finally release its report so the participants will have as informed a discussion as possible.