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Mass Exodus of EPA Experts Tasked to Protect the Public from Toxic Chemicals, Contaminated Water

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For Immediate Release: 
Friday, December 22, 2017

WASHINGTON – A report today by the New York Times and ProPublica describes in stark detail the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s disregard of science and scientists, and the real-life consequences for public health.

Data obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request by a team of journalists from both media outlets show that more than 700 EPA staff have left the agency since President Trump was sworn into office.

Among the people who have quit include more than 200 scientists and nearly 100 “environmental protection specialists.”

“Employees say the exodus has left the agency depleted of decades of knowledge about protecting the nation’s air and water…. Political appointees, however, are on the rise. The office of Scott Pruitt, the agency administrator, was the only unit that saw more hires than departures this year.”

According to the report, 54 people have left from the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, which is responsible for regulating toxic chemicals and pesticides, and 26 staff from the division responsible for safe drinking water have also departed.

“The impact of losing so many scientists may not be felt for months or years. But science permeates every part of the agency’s work, from assessing the health risks of chemical explosions like the one in Houston during Hurricane Harvey to determining when groundwater is safe to drink after a spill. Several employees said they feared the departures with few replacements in sight would put critical duties like responding to disasters and testing water for toxic chemicals in jeopardy.”

The only division that saw an increase in staff was in the Office of Administrator Pruitt, where he has brought on 73 people to replace the 53 who left since he became the head of the EPA.

Among the political appointees Pruitt has brought into his inner circle include former top officials from the chemical industry and lobbyists who represented big coal and oil companies.

"Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid of it in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left, but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out," said then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The EPA has long been a target by many members of Congress who represent districts and states with big chemical and fossil fuel interests. Mr. Pruitt himself sued the agency more than a dozen times as the Attorney General of Oklahoma over EPA’s efforts to lower pollution coal-fired power plants and other initiatives by the Obama administration.

Losing this many scientists and other professionals with many years of collective expertise in public health and environmental protection is extraordinarily worrisome, noted EWG President Ken Cook.

“The falling number of professionals at EPA with deep knowledge of what is required to protect people from pollution should alarm every American,” said Cook. “And now that the chemical and coal industries have toppled the barricades and are running the EPA, it’s mission to safeguard us from dangerous chemicals and contaminated air and water is in significant peril.”

On December 14 the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit organization, released an open letter signed by 704 former agency staffers and officials that expresses strong support for scientists still in the Agency and says, “Do not feel abandoned. Many public and private groups are responding to this assault on public health and safety.”