The Environmental Protection Agency children’s health director who was recently placed on leave says she is concerned that to agency leadership, “maybe saving children doesn’t matter anymore.”
Dr. Ruth Etzel, a pediatrician whose three decades of work in children’s health includes three years leading the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, said she was placed on leave with little explanation in late September.
“My job is kind of like being the chief lifeguard. I’m looking out for possible hazards to children and trying to prevent them,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “Erin Burnett OutFront.” “And if they don’t want the chief lifeguard around, what does that mean for children?”
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Etzel “was suspended while we investigate some allegations,” but declined to comment further about the nature of the charges.
He also said the “important work” of the children’s health office will continue, and an acting director is currently overseeing the staff.
“I appreciate the dedication of the employees of that office who have been performing outstandingly,” Wheeler said at an event focused on children’s health earlier this month.
Shortly after being told of her suspension, Etzel described in an email to colleagues months of “guerrilla warfare.” She was “was required to turn in my EPA badge, computer, keys, and cell phone” and is “not allowed to perform any official EPA duties.”
Etzel said in the CNN interview she suspected – but had no evidence – that she was sidelined to stymie progress on a major lead poisoning report that was nearing completion.
“I have a hard time knowing because what they continue to tell me is that lead poisoning is very important, but … if you watch their actions and not just listen to their words, you find out they’re not walking the walk that they would be walking if they really wanted to eliminate childhood lead poisoning,” she said.
Etzel said that generally, the administration has not made environmental protection “a high priority.”
“This administration doesn’t seem to adhere to the EPA mission which has always been to protect both human health and the environment,” she said.