Well if it wasn’t clear before, it’s crystal clear now. This administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn’t protecting children.
Yes, that’s a harsh charge. And yes, EPA officials are denying it, loudly protesting that children’s health remains a top priority. But the agency’s recent actions very clearly indicate otherwise.
What brain-harming pesticide?
Last week, the administration appealed a recent court decision ordering EPA to (finally!) ban chlorpyrifos. In response to a legal challenge by PAN and our allies, the judges gave agency officials 60 days to ban this brain-harming pesticide.
It’s true that federal agencies don’t usually move that quickly — but in this case it was entirely doable, since all the paperwork is already done. EPA was poised to ban chlorpyrifos in March 2017, in response to a legal petition we filed with partners back in 2007.
Enter Administrator Scott Pruitt (since resigned in disgrace), who decided to do Dow Chemical’s bidding and put the brakes on banning their product. He didn’t, however, bother to provide any evidence refuting the findings from EPA’s own scientists that the pesticide was too dangerous for children, and should be withdrawn.
Hence our most recent legal challenge. It turns out our public agencies aren’t allowed to make decisions on a whim. We’re confident that the court will hold firm on their decision that EPA should, in fact, do their job and ban chlorpyrifos.
What children’s health expert?
Then came the news that the head of EPA’s small but mighty Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP) was asked to turn in her badge. Dr. Ruth Etzel, a respected epidemiologist and pediatrician, was put on “administrative leave” with no explanation.
OCHP had been increasingly sidelined under this administration as they tried to do their work of ensuring children’s unique vulnerabilities were considered by every office across the agency.
It looks like Dr. Etzel’s departure signals further marginalization — or dismantling? — of the office, which was established in 1997. Outraged children’s health advocates across the country are raising a ruckus. The American Academy of Pediatrics delivered a letter to Acting Administrator Wheeler calling for Dr. Etzel’s reinstatement, with more than 130 groups (including PAN) signed on.
In an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week, Dr. Philip Landrigan and Dr. Lynn Goldman sounded the alarm about the dangers of losing this office that advocates for children’s health within the agency:
It is a small but highly effective program that protects the health of all Americans by protecting the most vulnerable among us. Dismantling it could do irreparable harm.
So those official statements that children’s health remains a “top priority” for EPA? We don’t think so.