The Trump administration is suppressing a report, completed by EPA scientists just before Trump’s inauguration, that warns that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapors in their day-to-day lives to put them at risk for leukemia and other illnesses. Formaldehyde is one of the most commonly used chemicals in the U.S., appearing in wood furniture and cabinets, in cleaning products and cosmetics, and in the air as pollution from refineries. This is a bombshell report, with scary implications for the majority of Americans, a report that should lead to increased regulation of the use of formaldehyde, including the use of safer alternatives. Yet the pro-industry Trump EPA is just sitting on the report.
The Trump EPA has been undermining its own mission all along, protecting industry instead of protecting the environment and human health. Yet this example of the EPA sitting on a report vital to human health is still shocking. The EPA claims such reports need extensive, time-consuming evaluation before their release, but the dire nature of this report should have compressed that evaluation time into far less than the year and a half it has so far taken. Scott Pruitt himself, upon questioning by a Senate panel in January, confirmed that he believed the EPA’s assessment of the draft was complete, yet nearly six month later, the EPA has not released the report. According to Politico, which first broke the story:
The Trump administration is suppressing an Environmental Protection Agency report that warns that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapor in the course of daily life to put them at risk of developing leukemia and other ailments, a current and a former agency official told POLITICO. The warnings are contained in a draft health assessment EPA scientists completed just before Donald Trump became president, according to the officials. They said top advisers to departing Administrator Scott Pruitt are delaying its release as part of a campaign to undermine the agency’s independent research into the health risks of toxic chemicals…The new assessment would give greater weight to warnings about the chemical’s risks and could lead to stricter regulations from the EPA or class-action lawsuits targeting its manufacturers, as frequently occurs after these types of studies are released. “They’re stonewalling every step of the way,” the current official said, accusing political appointees of interfering with the formaldehyde assessment and other reports on toxic chemicals produced by EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System.
Andrew Wheeler, who will take over as EPA administrator on Monday following Pruitt’s resignation, unfortunately also has a history of working to delay publication of an earlier report on the dangers of formaldehyde in 2004. So it seems unlikely that Wheeler will do any better than Pruitt on this issue. Wheeler is also pro-industry, having been a lobbyist for the coal industry earlier in his career. The pro-industry tilt at the EPA is being installed in a systematic manner by Trump’s political appointees, giving much more weight to those appointees and their pro-industry stance than to science. According to Politico:
Interfering with the formaldehyde study is one of several steps Trump’s EPA has taken to side with the businesses the agency is supposed to regulate and undermine the agency’s approach to science, critics say. Public health advocates also expressed alarm after Pruitt replaced academic scientists with industry advocates on the agency’s influential science advisory boards and sought to limit the types of human health research the EPA can rely on in rulemakings. The officials said Trump appointees have required that career officials receive their permission before beginning the required internal review of the formaldehyde study and have canceled key briefings that would have advanced it. That interference came after EPA career scientists revised the study once already last year to insulate it from political controversy, they said.
Thankfully, whistle blowers at the EPA were willing to come forward anonymously to the press about the EPA stalling the release of this report. Against the backdrop of the Trump administration, which seeks to silence any news critical of Trump or his policies by deeming any such reports as fake, freedom of the press has never been more important. Armed with the information released not by the EPA but by the press, consumers will be able to insist on products that don’t have formaldehyde, and insist that refineries, one of the major sources of formaldehyde-containing air pollution, work to reduce or eliminate those emissions. One of the things industry and the Trump EPA fear about the release of the report would be the possibility of class action lawsuits against industry over the use of the dangerous chemical in common household objects. The EPA should be doing this on our behalf, but it, like much of the Trump administration, is failing to do its actual job.