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Top EPA and Other Administration Officials Had Previously Attempted To Keep Secret a Study Showing That PFAS Pose a Danger to Human Health at Exposure Levels that are Seven to Ten Times Lower than What EPA Had Told the Public

Gillibrand, Schumer Led the Call on EPA Administrator to Release Department of Health and Human Services Study to the Public

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today announced that following their push, the Department of Health and Human Services released a study concerning the health effects of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Last month, the senators learned that officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Defense (DOD) had reportedly intervened in order to keep the results of this study secret and avoid a “public relations nightmare.” The study recommends a much lower safe level for PFAS chemicals, seven to ten times lower than the level recommended by the EPA. Schumer and Gillibrand called on Administration officials to immediately release the results of the study on the dangers of these chemicals, which have been found in water supplies across New York and the country.

“This critically important report never should have been kept secret from the public in the first place, and I was extremely disturbed when I learned that Administration officials had attempted to hide it for fear of a ‘public relations nightmare,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “PFAS contamination has harmed communities throughout New York – including in the City of Newburgh, Westhampton Beach, and Hoosick Falls – and these residents deserve to know exactly how they have been affected. This newly released information will help protect public health, and I urge the Trump Administration to be more transparent going forward.” 

“I was deeply disturbed by reports that the Trump administration and top EPA officials were shamefully blocking the report from being made public,” said Senator Schumer. “Communities across New York State, from Hoosick Falls to Newburgh to Suffolk County have been deeply impacted by this contamination and now that this information has been released more can be done to keep the public informed on how harmful PFAS and PFOA are to the body. I  will continue to fight for impacted communities because New Yorkers deserve to know exactly how this toxic chemical is impacting their drinking  water and their family’s health,”

The study released last week by the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found that PFAS can pose risks to the most vulnerable populations at levels lower than what the EPA said was safe in its 2016 health advisory. The study also describes how people are exposed to the chemicals, and the health risks that these chemicals pose for different populations. Upon learning that top Administration officials attempted to cover up the results of this HHS study, Gillibrand and Schumer, along with nine other senators, called on the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, and the Office of Management and Budget Director to immediately release the study to the public.

A copy of their letter is available here and below:

The Honorable Scott Pruitt


Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator Pruitt,

We are writing in response to a troubling report[1] that officials from the White House, Office of Management and Budget, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Defense (DOD) intervened in order to delay the release of a study by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) concerning the health effects of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The unreleased HHS assessment reportedly concludes that those chemicals pose a danger to human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously said was safe. If this report is accurate and administration officials sought to suppress release of critical public health information in the interest of avoiding a “public relations nightmare,” it is an unacceptable failure of leadership and a failure to protect public health.

Perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of toxic chemicals affecting communities across the nation.  These chemical substances are linked to certain cancers and other serious adverse health effects. They are often used to manufacture products like fabric protectors, firefighting foam, and stain repellents due to rigorous chemical properties that also make them persistent in the environment and resistant to degradation.

ATSDR is directed by Congressional mandate to perform specific functions concerning the effect on public health of hazardous substances in the environment, including health consultations concerning specific hazardous substances. According to internal EPA emails that were released to the Union of Concerned Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act, on January 30, 2018, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the White House Office of Management and Budget, forwarded an email from another White House aide about the ATSDR’s PFAS report to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top financial officer, which stated:

“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge…The impact to EPA and DoD is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”

The ATSDR report still has not been publicly released. Given the scope of the contamination nationwide and the ongoing exposure of communities across the United States to these chemicals, it is imperative that the public receive an opportunity to review the ATSDR report.  Therefore, we request that you release the draft report immediately. We also request that you provide our offices with all internal documents and communications in your agency’s possession regarding any internal deliberations or discussion about this report within 10 business days. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to receiving your response soon.