The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
EPA Places Children’s Health Leader on Unexplained Leave
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed the head of the Office of Children's Health Protection on administrative leave Tuesday in a move that those close to the agency suspect is intended to sideline the office's work, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Dr. Ruth Etzel, a pediatrician and epidemiologist who joined the EPA in 2015, was asked to hand in her badge, keys and cellphone Tuesday, but was not being disciplined and would continue to receive pay and benefits, an anonymous official within the EPA told The New York Times.
"This seems like a sneaky way for the EPA to get rid of this program and not be upfront about it," Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a top Michigan pediatrician whose blood tests of Flint residents helped confirm lead poisoning from the water there, told The New York Times.
Sources close to the agency said that the children's health office often calls for stricter standards on regulating chemicals and pollutants, since children are more vulnerable to toxins than adults due to their size, the fact that they are still developing and the fact that some of their behaviors, like crawling or sticking objects in their mouths, put them in more potential contact with contaminants.
This has put the office at odds with an administration intent on rolling back environmental regulations.
The anonymous official said that a proposal for reducing children's lead exposure, which had been in development for more than a year with the help of 17 federal agencies, had been stalled since July.
Etzel had also opposed a move by the EPA's current office of chemical regulation leader and former chemical industry lobbyist Nancy Beck to rescind an Obama-era standard saying farm workers under 18 could not apply the most toxic pesticides.
EPA spokesperson John Konkus declined to give an explanation for the agency's decision to place Etzel on leave, but denied it was an attempt to phase out her office.
"These offices will continue to be a part of headquarters and regional organizations," he said in a statement reported by The New York Times. "Children's health is and has always been a top priority for the Trump Administration and the EPA in particular is focused on reducing lead exposure in schools, providing funds for a cleaner school bus fleet, and cleaning up toxic sites so that children have safe environments to learn and play."
But former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who was appointed by George W. Bush, said the move was extremely unusual.
"If they're not saying why they dismissed her, it creates the impression that it's about the policies she worked on," she told The New York Times.
Science advocacy and public health organizations have called on the EPA to explain its actions.
"EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler promised to listen to the EPA's expert public servants. We call on Administrator Wheeler to explain why he's removed Dr. Etzel from her position and, on the eve of Children's Health Month, confirm his commitment to the Office of Children's Health Protection," the Union of Concerned Scientists Executive Director Kathleen Rest said in a statement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics called for her to be reinstated, according to The New York Times.
Etzel has worked in key positions in children's environmental health for 30 years and came to the EPA from serving as a senior officer for environmental health research at the World Health Organization.
This wouldn't be the first time political EPA appointees under President Donald Trump had interfered with the work of career staffers.
The EPA employees union told The New York Times that the administration has chosen to drain various offices of staff rather than closing them altogether. The staff of the Office of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement, for example, has fallen from around 252 employees to around 182.
The Office of Environmental Justice has also decreased in size since Trump took office.
"They're finding these other ways to hamper the work," head of the EPA union at the Chicago office Nicole Cantello told The New York Times.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)
Veganism refers to a way of living that attempts to minimize animal exploitation and cruelty. For this reason, vegans aim to exclude all foods containing meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and honey from their diet (1).
'Finally!': Court Orders EPA to Stop Stalling Potential Ban on Pesticide Tied to Brain Damage in Kids
By Jessica Corbett
In a ruling welcomed by public health advocates, a federal court on Friday ordered the Trump administration to stop stalling a potential ban on a pesticide linked to brain damage in children, giving regulators until mid-July to make a final decision.
At EcoWatch, our team knows that changing personal habits and taking actions that contribute to a better planet is an ongoing journey. Earth Day, happening on April 22, is a great reminder for all of us to learn more about the environmental costs of our behaviors like food waste or fast fashion.
To offer readers some inspiration this Earth Day, our team rounded up their top picks for films to watch. So, sit back and take in one of these documentary films this Earth Day. Maybe it will spark a small change you can make in your own life.
By Shuchi Talati
Solar geoengineering describes a set of approaches that would reflect sunlight to cool the planet. The most prevalent of these approaches entails mimicking volcanic eruptions by releasing aerosols (tiny particles) into the upper atmosphere to reduce global temperatures — a method that comes with immense uncertainty and risk. We don't yet know how it will affect regional weather patterns, and in turn its geopolitical consequences. One way we can attempt to understand potential outcomes is through models.
By Julia Conley
Green groups on Saturday celebrated the latest federal ruling aimed at preventing President Donald Trump from rolling back environmental regulations that were put in place by his predecessor.
By Tim Radford
Scientists have identified yet another hazard linked to the thawing permafrost: laughing gas. A series of flights over the North Slope of Alaska has detected unexpected levels of emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from the rapidly warming soils.