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Trump’s Team Helped Cover Up Records Of 270,000 Pounds Of Carcinogenic Pollution

by : Emily Brown on : 01 Apr 2021 13:46
Trump's Team Helped Cover Up Records Of 270,000 Pounds Of Carcinogenic PollutionPA/Pexels

An analysis of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records indicates almost 270,000 pounds of ethylene oxide pollution vanished from the public record under Donald Trump’s administration. 

Ethylene oxide is a colourless gas that has no odour unless it is present in very high concentrations. It has long been known to cause cancer with long-term exposure, and even tiny amounts of the gas can cause skin burns, twitching, convulsions, and comas.

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It is used in the production in many consumer goods and as an agent in the sterilisation of medical equipment, but offers no obvious way to know when it is being released at unsafe levels.

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In an effort to know whether they could be at risk of unsafe exposure, people have to rely on public records detailing its usage. However, some companies that release the chemical have been found to change their records to make their emissions appear smaller and less harmful, with a number appearing to have done so at the invitation of the EPA.

In a report for The Intercept, investigative reporter Sharon Lerner explained that, under the leadership of former chemical industry executives appointed by former president Donald Trump, the EPA aggressively rolled back air pollution safeguards.

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According to an analysis of EPA records by The Intercept and Material Research, seven companies have retroactively revised their reports of ethylene oxide emissions for 12 facilities since 2018; the same year that news broke regarding additional dangers posed by the chemical.

In 2018, the EPA issued its National Air Toxics Assessment and showed that more than 100 census tracts around the US had cancer risk levels due to air pollution from the ethylene oxide pollution that were above the EPA’s 100-in-1-million threshold of concern.

Two years earlier, another division of the environmental agency called IRIS had found ethylene oxide was 30 times more carcinogenic than previously thought.

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Almost 270,000 pounds of ethylene oxide pollution vanished from the public record in total, with Keri Powell, an environmental attorney who specialises in air permitting, commenting: ‘There’s no doubt that these numbers are being reviewed and reduced because there’s increased public concern.’

At least some of the companies appear to have changed their records under the instruction of the Trump administration’s EPA.

Sarah Huoh, a spokesperson for Edwards Lifesciences, told The Intercept:

In 2018, the EPA requested that Edwards revise its 2016 and 2017 submissions because the company was over-reporting its EO emissions per guidance provided by EPA.

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The request reportedly came from US EPA Region 2 in 2018, and Huoh said the agency ‘inquired about the numbers for the ‘fugitive or non-point air emissions’ relative to the ‘stack or point air emissions,’ proposing that the wrong definitions might have been utilized and resulted in over-reporting’.

The EPA’s Madeline Beal has stated, ‘EPA’s TRI (Toxics Release Inventory) Program did not ask any facility to revise ethylene oxide emissions reporting to TRI as a result of the IRIS assessment.’

It is possible that some of the companies previously overestimated their emissions, as the limits of the ability to measure the gas make it difficult to provide accurate accounts, however Beal did not confidently say whether anyone else in the agency had suggested or requested revisions.

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She commented:

While we are not aware of any communications from EPA instructing companies to change their reporting to TRI outside of the data quality processes that we described in the previous response, I can affirm that, going forward, the Biden Administration is committed to letting science, data, and evidence drive EPA decision-making processes on environmental health risks.

The industry may face a shift as President Joe Biden’s focus on environmental justice could make the legal and regulatory attention to ethylene oxide more intense.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Health, Cancer, Donald Trump, Joe Biden

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The Intercept
  1. The Intercept

    Tracking The Invisible Killer