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Republican congressman: Pruitt should quit after trying to block PFAS study

Fitzpatrick: '...way too much smoke' surrounding EPA chief

  • Jon Hurdle
FILE PHOTO: The Horsham Air Guard Station in Bucks County, Pa.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact Pennsylvania

FILE PHOTO: The Horsham Air Guard Station in Bucks County, Pa.

Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick called on Monday for the resignation of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, saying Pruitt had tried to block the release of a federal health study on chemicals that have contaminated public water supplies in some places.

Fitzpatrick faulted Pruitt for not doing more to protect the public from the chemicals PFOA and PFOS that have been linked to illnesses including cancer, high cholesterol and immune system problems.

The study, released last week, said the safe limits for the chemicals – part of a family known as PFAS or PFCs — are seven to ten times lower than those recommended, but not required, by the EPA.

Pruitt said at an EPA national summit on PFAS in May that his agency will look at whether to regulate the chemicals, and will release a national plan on how to manage them by the end of 2018. EPA officials are due to conduct several public meetings on the issue, starting in New Hampshire.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican (left), and Brendan Boyle, a Democrat, urged EPA to set national regulation on PFAS chemicals. They spoke outside Horsham Air Guard Station in Bucks County, Pa. on June 25. Fitzpatrick called on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to resign in part because of his handling of a report on the toxic chemicals.

Fitzpatrick appeared at a news conference with Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle outside a Horsham, Bucks County, military base that used fire-fighting foam containing the chemicals, which have been blamed for local water contamination.

Fitzpatrick said Pruitt should step down right away because a number of ethical allegations against him, including the PFAS issue, show there’s no need for a lengthy investigation into Pruitt’s conduct.

He said in an interview later: “I’m opposed to these knee-jerk reactions to calling for people’s resignation. What I always believe in is a full inspector-general investigation and report, have those findings of fact and conclusions of law presented to Congress, and then we make a recommendation. That’s the most orderly way to do it but I will say with this man, there’s way too much smoke surrounding him.”

According to The Hill, which covers Congress, four other Republican House members have called for Pruitt’s resignation amid alleged ethics violations.

In May, several national news outlets reported on emails showing White House and EPA officials warning of a “public relations nightmare” if they had to explain the wide difference between the EPA’s health recommendations and health limits proposed in the new study from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

In response to calls from federal lawmakers in both parties, Pruitt said earlier that he didn’t have the authority to release the study from the ATSDR, a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a statement late Monday, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the ATSDR study was not EPA’s to release. “From our historic national PFAS summit with representatives from over 40 states, first-ever community engagement listening session in New Hampshire today, to our four-step action plan, Administrator Pruitt is taking decisive action to eradicate PFAS from our drinking water,” Wilcox said.

But Fitzpatrick said Monday that Pruitt could have done more to keep the public informed.

“This isn’t the first instance but this is the most recent, that we were seeing a lack of cooperation with our office when it comes to the disclosure of the CDC health study, that all of these people around here have every single right to know what the results are, and we can’t respond from a policy standpoint unless we have that data,” Fitzpatrick said. “He could have been a much more willing partner in helping us get that.”

Scott Wallace, the Democrat who will challenge Fitzpatrick for his seat in the November elections, called on Pruitt to resign on June 21, the day the ATSDR report was published. “While Pruitt has been abusing his office and wasting taxpayer dollars on perks for himself and his favorite lobbyists, our family, friends, and neighbors in Bucks and Montgomery Counties are getting sick – they are getting cancer, thyroid disease and life-changing diagnoses,” Wallace said in a statement on Monday.

The ATSDR has tried to deflect reports of splits with EPA on the issue, saying that federal agencies collaborate on such policies.

Both congressmen urged EPA to regulate PFAS at levels that match the ATSDR’s health limits, and said the Defense Department, which has used the chemicals at many military bases around the country, should be more aggressive in eliminating them from local water sources.

“We are here to say that the Defense Department and the EPA must do more, and they should have done it by now,“ Boyle said.

“When emails came out showing that White House and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt were suppressing a damning federal health study for fear of a, quote, public relations nightmare, I led a bipartisan letter with Mr. Fitzpatrick calling for the study’s release,” Boyle said. “Now that the study has been released, we see what Mr. Pruitt was afraid of.”

State Rep. Todd Stephens, a Republican, said at the same event that Horsham Township now has “non-detect” as the level for PFAS required in its water — meaning the township regulation is that PFAS can’t be detected in the water — in response to the contamination of public and private water supplies in the area.

“We want to know, what are the potential health effects of the water that we’ve been drinking,” Stephens said. “What can we do to protect ourselves and our families.”

While some state and local authorities are setting their own rules on the chemicals, that doesn’t relieve the EPA of the need to establish national rules, Boyle said.

He said the ATSDR study offers a “good baseline” for regulating the chemicals, but argued that the specific level is less important than substituting a legal limit for the EPA’s current advisory level.

Fitzpatrick argued that a federal standard would be better than a “patchwork” of local laws that mean some areas are safer than others.

“We have a lot of people in this community, and around the country, who live in and around military bases who may have been subject to very unsafe levels of contaminated drinking water,” Fitzpatrick said. “They need to start taking steps to make themselves and their families safe, and it is the federal government’s responsibility to do this.”

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