Release of Scientific Study Blocked

On May 14, 2018, Politico reported that the White House had blocked publication of a scientific study into water contamination. The study, which was prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), examined the health risks arising from exposure to water contaminated with perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). It found that PFOS and PFOA endanger human health at levels far lower than previously identified as safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to the Politico report, in January 2018, a White House staffer expressed concern that release of the study would be “extremely painful” for EPA. White House and EPA officials reportedly explored ways to block the study’s release and held discussions with ATSDR staff to try to get them “to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.” More than three months after those discussions, the study remains unpublished, and no date has been set for its release.


On May 22, 2018, EPA held a summit to discuss water contamination and the risks from PFOS and PFOA. The Washington Post reported that journalists from CNN, the Associated Press, and E&E News were prevented from attending the meeting, which included about 200 representatives of regulatory and industry groups. EPA claimed the event had limited capacity for journalists and that the room had reached capacity. AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer tweeted that EPA guards grabbed a journalist by the shoulders and “shoved” them out of the building. Knickmeyer declined to identify herself as the journalists, but AP later confirmed that she was the one excluded. By mid-afternoon, EPA reversed course and permitted Knickmeyer and other excluded journalists to cover the conference’s afternoon session. Knickmeyer said that an adviser to Pruitt called to apologize to her and that officials were looking into the shoving incident.


On June 20, 2018, ASTDR released a draft report of its study into the health effects of PFOS and PFOA. The report indicates that the chemicals can endanger human health at levels 7 to 10 times lower than EPA has previously said were safe.