FILE PHOTO: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in...
Aaron Bernstein

Pruitt’s EPA staff worried about chemical exposure (for him, not you)

Updated

The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration last year, the new Republican White House got to work targeting regulations and public safeguards. Six weeks later, the New York Times  reported that the Trump administration had already halted “a measure intended to prevent potentially toxic formaldehyde exposure in homes caused by certain furniture products.”

This month, the story grew even more alarming. Politico  reported a few weeks ago that the Environmental Protection Agency prepared a report warning that many Americans are at risk of developing leukemia and other ailments by inhaling formaldehyde vapor, but the Trump administration is “suppressing” the EPA’s findings.

EPA scientists reportedly completed their draft assessment last fall, and were poised to move forward with a peer-review process, but it’s still under wraps. The concern, of course, is the Trump administration is trying to protect the chemical industry from having to deal with onerous new safeguards.

Keep all of this in mind when reading Politico’s latest scoop, published yesterday afternoon.

Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s staff sought to protect him from exposure to toxic formaldehyde from an office desk last year, emails show – just months before his top political aides blocked the release of a report on health dangers from the same chemical.

In the spring of 2017, as Pruitt was finishing the more than $9,500 redecoration of his office, a top career official in the administrator’s office noticed a California warning that one of the ornate desks their boss wanted contained formaldehyde, which the state classifies as a carcinogen. It’s unclear whether Pruitt ultimately ordered that desk as part of the renovation – which included artwork from the Smithsonian, framed photographs of Pruitt and President Donald Trump and a standing “captain’s” desk – but the documents show that his staff took steps to protect Pruitt from exposure to the chemical.

If the reporting is accurate, we’re dealing with a dynamic in which Pruitt’s aides were concerned about his exposure to a potentially toxic chemical, even while Pruitt stood accused of suppressing evidence about our exposure to a potentially toxic chemical.

And what of the former lobbyist who’s now sitting in Pruitt’s chair? Politico also recently reported, “Andrew Wheeler, the No. 2 official at EPA who will be the agency’s new acting chief as of Monday, also has a history with the chemical. He was staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2004, when his boss, then-Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), sought to delay an earlier iteration of the formaldehyde assessment.”

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Pruitt's EPA staff worried about chemical exposure (for him, not you)

Updated