iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The federal government’s push to prevent lead from harming children’s health has stalled, according to a top scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency who was recently pushed out of her job.
The scientist, Ruth Etzel, recently told CBS News the U.S. effort to stop children from being exposed to lead proposed after the Flint water crisis stalled under the Trump administration. She said one official told her anything involving new regulation “wouldn’t fly.”
“My sense is that the government has absolutely no intention of taking any action toward seriously changing lead in children’s environments,” Etzel said.
Etzel was the agency’s senior pediatric expert until she was recently placed on administrative leave from her position as director of the Office of Children’s Health.
The CDC says there is no safe level of exposure to lead, which can cause developmental problems and learning disabilities in children.
ABC News did not immediately reach Etzel for comment.
An EPA spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Etzel’s allegations come as Flint, Michigan, continues to recover from a massive public health crisis caused by lead in its waters pipes. The city’s tap water became contaminated in 2014 after officials switched from the Detroit system to the Flint River to save money, exposing residents to lead. This July, the EPA’s Inspector General called on the federal agency to strengthen its oversight of state drinking water systems nationally and respond more quickly to public health emergencies such as the Flint crisis.
Etzel was placed on administrative leave from her job at the agency three weeks ago. She told CBS that she wasn’t told why but the EPA has said that she was placed on leave to investigate allegations about her leadership of the Office of Children’s Health. EPA officials have declined to provide any further details, saying they do not comment on personnel matters.
More than 120 organizations environmental and health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, wrote to acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler asking for an explanation for why Etzel was placed on leave and a commitment that the agency will still make children’s health issues a priority.
“The current EPA leadership talks about children’s health, and it is literally that – just talk,” Olga Naidenko, science adviser for the Environmental Working Group said. “When it comes to action — such as protecting children from exposure to lead, mercury and harmful pesticides — what we see is administration activities aimed to roll back children’s health protections, not strengthen them.”
Naidenko also serves on an EPA advisory committee on children’s health issues.
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