Trump administration political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly squashed efforts to warn the public about a cancer-causing gas in their neighborhood, according to a new review.
The EPA inspector general said Bill Wehrum, a former attorney for the fossil fuel industry who led the air and radiation office, directed officials who investigated the presence of dangerous chemical in Willowbrook, Illinois, to “not release monitoring results to the public.”
Wehrum blocked plans by local EPA officials in the summer of 2018 to post a website revealing air monitoring data from the Sterigenics facility there. The facility sterilized medical equipment using the chemical ethylene oxide, a chemical the government says is linked to lymphoma, leukemia, stomach, and breast cancers. A 2016 review of the chemical found it 30 times more cancer-causing than previously thought, and dropped the word “probably” from its assessment of cancer links.
When local officials put the site online two months later, Wehrum’s deputy ordered it pulled down, the report said. The website “was online for about an hour before the then-deputy assistant administrator for Air and Radiation directed Region 5 to take the webpage down,” according to the inspector general.
Wehrum did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN.
“The fact that senior Trump Administration EPA officials impeded the release of information to communities regarding the health risks of ethylene oxide exposure is about as contradictory to the agency’s mission of protecting the public as you can get,” said Sen. Tom Carper, the Democrat who chairs the committee overseeing the EPA and one of several lawmakers who requested the inspector general review.
Wehrum resigned from the EPA in 2019, about a year after his initial move to block the Willowbrook website, under a cloud of ethical concerns. He had been accused of holding meetings prohibited under his ethics pledge.
Wehrum’s work at the EPA included the Trump administration’s replacement of Obama-era rules on power plants. Prior to joining EPA, Wehrum’s clients included oil, gas, and coal companies.
The Sterigenics facility stopped operating in 2019. A spokeswoman for Sotera Health, which owns Sterigenics, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.