Friday, January 21

‘The harm to children is irreparable’: Ruth Etzel speaks before EPA whistleblower hearing | United States Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect children by ignoring poisons in the environment and focusing on corporate interests, according to a senior child health official who will testify this week that the agency tried to silence her. due to its insistence on stronger preventions against lead. poisoning.

“The people of the United States expect the EPA to protect the health of their children, but the EPA is more concerned with protecting the interests of polluting industries,” said Ruth Etzel, former director of the Office of Children’s Health Protection ( OCHP) from the EPA. . The damage done to the children is “irreparable,” he said.

A hearing will be held on September 13 in which various internal EPA communications will be presented as evidence, including an email in which EPA staff discuss the use of press inquiries about Etzel as “an opportunity to attack“Against her. Among the many witnesses who will be called to testify are several former senior EPA officials.

“I want this to be seen and heard,” Etzel said. “I think we should let some light shine on these dirty tricks.”

Etzel is among five current or former EPA scientists who have recently introduced with accusations that the agency, which is charged with regulating chemicals and other substances that can harm public and environmental health, has been deeply corrupted by corporate and political influence. That outside influence pushes the agency’s scientists to conduct important evaluations in ways that protect their jobs, rather than protect the public, Etzel said.

The whistleblowers have alleged a number of wrongdoing by the EPA, including the use of intimidation tactics against the agency’s own scientists to protect the interests of certain industries, even when doing so puts the public at risk. Problems have continued in the Biden administration, according to the allegations.

‘Destroy the scientist’

Etzel is a pediatrician and epidemiologist who joined the EPA in 2015 after serving as a senior officer in the department of public health and environment at the World Health Organization in Switzerland. She also previously worked for the US Centers for Disease Control and the US Department of Agriculture, and is known as a global expert on children’s health issues.

In her role at EPA, Etzel helped launch an initiative to accelerate the reduction of children’s exposure to lead from sources in the air, water, soil, paint, and food. Federal leadership strategy stalled, Etzel alleges, after the 2016 election of Donald Trump when the EPA came under the direction of Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Etzel filed it away whistleblower complaint against the EPA in November 2018 alleging that its determination to push forward the initiative, including public complaints about EPA delays, led to retaliation.

The EPA put her on leave, demoted her, cut her salary, fabricated complaints against her and ran a smear campaign designed to “humiliate” her and “undermine her career and professional stature,” according to to your complaint. The EPA also blocked his opportunities to speak at professional conferences, he alleges.

Internal EPA email communications included as evidence in the case show that initial media inquiries about Etzel’s administrative license generated short responses that declined to comment on “personnel matters.” But as media inquiries about Etzel mounted, on September 28, 2018, a senior EPA public affairs official wrote to the EPA press secretary and other public affairs officials: “This is our opportunity to to go on strike”.

Then, in an email thread with the subject “Spread this out ASAP, please”, public affairs officials accepted a “stronger updated” statement on Etzel saying she was put on administrative leave due to “serious reports. facts against him by the staff … ”Which were“ very worrying ”.

“The old playbook was attacking science,” Etzel told the Guardian. “The new playbook is to destroy the scientist.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics and more than 100 public health-oriented organizations and institutions sent a letter in 2018 to the EPA in protest at the removal of Etzel, who has received multiple national and international awards for his scientific integrity and advocacy in recent years.

‘Correct the mistakes of the past’

in a pre-hearing statement, the EPA denied retaliating against Etzel, saying the federal action plan on lead was issued in December 2018 and was a “major focus and significant achievement.”

“While appellant Ruth Etzel has alleged that the previous EPA administration delayed implementation of the action plan on the premise that it did not care about children and the problems of lead exposure, the abundant history and witness testimony will illustrate that the appellant’s accusations are tremendously unfounded, ”the EPA said in the filing with the MSPB.

The EPA said there were numerous complaints about Etzel’s management, including complaints that he used “explicit language,” “did not follow the agency’s human resources policy,” could not “control his emotions,” and often “would intimidate. to others”.

In a statement to The Guardian, the EPA said: “This administration is committed to ensuring that all EPA decisions are based on rigorous scientific information and standards. EPA does not tolerate retaliation against employees who report suspected violations. “

Paula Dinerstein, an attorney with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility group, which represents Etzel, said the EPA has not yet taken steps to implement the lead protection strategy and has acknowledged that the “defamatory complaints” against Etzel were unsubstantiated.

Not only must the Biden administration reinstate Etzel to his previous position, it must also take steps to address the deeper issues revealed by the whistleblowers, Dinerstein said.

“Etzel and other recent EPA whistleblowers have exposed EPA shyness and industry capture,” he said. “The Biden administration has said a lot of right things and made some good steps, but it will take a lot of effort and pressure to ensure past mistakes are corrected.”

The Etzel v EPA case is scheduled for a hearing before the US Merit Systems Protection Board on September 13-15. The proceedings are open to the public and scheduled to take place through Zoom due to fears about the spread of Covid-19.

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