Wednesday, September 26, 2018

EPA puts top children’s health official on leave

By John Bowden and Miranda Green - 09/26/18

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday placed Office of Children’s Health Protection Director Dr. Ruth Etzel on administrative leave without explanation in a move critics warn could be part of an effort to shut the office down, an effort that the EPA denies exists.

The New York Times reports that Etzel was placed on leave and asked to hand over her badge, keys and cellphone, according to an EPA official who was familiar with the decision but would not speak publicly.


The reported administrative change set off fears for some in the health-care industry who have been watching the internal changes at EPA.

The director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center, a teaching hospital that serviced children affected by the Flint, Mich., lead water crisis, warned the Times that the move could be a "sneaky" way for the Trump administration to shift the EPA's priorities.

“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 told the Times, adding that Etzel is “an international leader in children’s health.”

Other EPA sources told the Times that Etzel's suspension was just the latest move slowing productivity in the EPA's small 15-person Office of Children’s Health Protection, citing a multi-agency study on childhood lead exposure undertaken by the office last year but allegedly stalled by the Trump administration since July.


The EPA has seen major staff cuts under President Trump. Since he took office, the agency has reportedly lost 8 percent of its total staff, totaling nearly 1,600 workers, in an 18-month period.


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