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Draining the chemical swamp

Last week, the Trump administration blocked a planned ban on a pesticide linked to numerous adverse health effects. The pesticide, chlorpyrifos, is manufactured by Dow Chemicals, which donated $1 million for Trump’s inauguration. Despite reports by the EPA that the chemical can lead to nerve and organ damage and developmental disorders in children, the president blocked the ban, enraging many public health experts. Moreover, this action follows a slew of actions by the Trump administration to roll back chemical regulations and stifle research on dangerous toxins. Time and time again, instead of informing and protecting the public, the Trump administration has been working with his financial backers—in this case the $54 million chemical industry lobby—to further the interests of big business at the expense of the American public.

In March, we previously commented on the tragic lessons of Flint—an environmental disaster in which political corruption and public ignorance collided with disastrous consequences. After the tragedy gained widespread news coverage, policymakers promised "never again” to another public health catastrophe on the level of Flint. Yet, if the Trump administration continues on its current course, the country may be doomed to repeat another Flint, or perhaps an even worse disaster that could affect millions of Americans. 

The clash between politics and public health is hardly a new phenomenon. Since the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 1970s, the debate over environmental toxins has become an extremely politically polarizing issue. On one side of the debate are conservatives who view environmental regulations as cumbersome and “anti-business” while the left is dominated by voices who argue that such laws are necessary to protect the health of the American public. Looming over these ideological disagreements are industry lobbyists, who exercise an unhealthy degree of influence within the current debate over environmental toxins.  

The symbiosis between politics and industry lobbying will no doubt be particularly pernicious under the Trump administration. Far from “draining the swamp,” Trump has set up deregulation teams composed of former industry employees. He has appointed a former chemical industry executive to lead the EPA’s toxic chemical unit while simultaneously banning scientists from serving on independent advisory boards. These moves have occurred under the guise of a “pro-business” platform centered on cutting red tape to stimulate economic growth. Furthermore, amidst Trump’s other headline-grabbing policies and statements, it is unlikely that the unseen damaging effects of chemical deregulation will receive as much public attention. Because the consequences of environmental toxins often take years or decades to manifest themselves, Trump and his inner circle will most likely be shielded from the inevitable political backlash. Tragically, the most vulnerable victims of these inevitable environmental tragedies tend to be the least visible populations: poor communities of color, like the people of Flint. 

We have seen this tragedy play out far too many times; years of unseen casualties, buried evidence and widespread news coverage precede the inevitable public horror that ultimately comes in the aftermath of environmental tragedies. We call on political representatives to be accountable to their constituents and to take the lead on funding much-needed research, as well as instituting essential regulations on environmental toxins. Our public health should not be a partisan issue. Yet, under an administration that has shown itself time and time again to be against the interests of the average American, it is also incumbent on the public to stay informed, place pressure on local officials and advocate for those who cannot do so themselves. 


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